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Do Roundabouts Really Help Improve Traffic Safety?

Thursday, November 10, 2016By Richard Alexander

Did you know that about 25% of traffic fatalities occur in or around intersections? Traditional intersections present the highest potential for traffic-related deaths nationwide. A more modern design now in widespread use, known as a roundabout, has been shown to be much safer. Why?

Traffic engineers try to design roads and intersections to minimize points of conflict—or crashes—between vehicles and other road users, such as cyclists and pedestrians. At a traditional intersection, whether controlled by stop signs or a traffic signal, there are many points of potential conflict between vehicles. Every point of entry, every point of exit, and every place of crossing represents a potential conflict point. This means that a four-way intersection has a total of 32 conflict points.

If you replace the traditional intersection with a roundabout, the number of potential conflict points is drastically reduced, to eight. In addition, crashes at roundabouts are far less likely to be severe. There are at least two reasons for this. First, because of the shape of the roundabout, the vehicles are traveling more slowly. Second, all of the traffic is moving in the same direction.

Estimates consistently show that roundabouts improve traffic safety. The Federal Highway Administration estimates that roundabouts reduce the number of serious crashes by about 80 percent. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety estimates are similar, finding injury crashes reduced by 72 to 80 percent, as well as a reduction of all crashes by between 35 and 47 percent.

In addition to improving safety, roundabouts are environmentally friendly because vehicles idle less than they would at a traditional intersection. Roundabouts keep traffic moving, are less expensive to maintain, and are often designed to include attractive landscaping.

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