Sometimes it seems that wherever you go, there’s a new roundabout cropping up. You’re cruising along when you must suddenly slow down, merge and drive a partial loop.
The South Carolina Department of Transportation (SCDOT) has mapped 17 roundabouts throughout the state, and Greenville is looking at introducing as many as nine more. The plan to introduce these roundabouts mirrors the national trend. States are building more and more roundabouts because they reduce serious crashes, but as the Greenville News reports, this doesn’t mean everyone loves them.
The challenge presented by roundabouts
At their best, roundabouts can be elegant and beautiful solutions to standard traffic problems. The statistics on the SCDOT are astonishing. They show that roundabouts:
- Reduce all crashes by 66%
- Reduce injuries by 79%
- Eliminate nearly all fatal crashes
Meanwhile, as these roundabouts make the roads safer, they also shrink back-ups and promote a smoother flow of traffic.
So why doesn’t everyone love them?
Because the studies weigh so far in favor of roundabouts, it’s notoriously difficult to find coherent complaints, but people still speak up against roundabouts nearly every time they’re proposed. As one reader of the Greenville News wrote, “People would legit rather sit at a light not moving at all than navigate a traffic circle for three seconds.”
One can only speculate that the main reason is people are reluctant to change their behaviors.
Navigating a roundabout
The basic premise of the roundabout is that traffic doesn’t stop. While most American intersections use traffic lights or stop signs to direct drivers to take turns, roundabouts force incoming drivers to yield. This means that drivers need to take three key steps:
- Slow down while approaching the roundabout
- Yield to traffic
- Signal their exit from the roundabout
It’s not necessary to signal your entrance to the roundabout because it’s the only path forward. However, it’s a good idea to signal your exit so that other drivers won’t be surprised by your deceleration or change of direction.
Accidents at roundabouts
While the use of roundabouts may lead to significant reductions in the worst kinds of crashes, accidents do still happen. In 2017, CityLab reported on a study from Wisconsin that showed that even as the state’s roundabouts shrank the number of serious crashes, they led to an increased number of crashes overall. Still, some of the specific findings were even more revealing:
- The vast majority (87%) of those accidents resulted from drivers veering off the road, frequently as they approached the roundabout.
- Just over one-third of those accidents involved bad weather.
- Another one-fifth of those accidents involved impaired drivers.
- Speed played a factor in just 5.8% of all crashes but in 11.5% of all fatal crashes.
As a result, you can see that determining fault in roundabout accidents can involve more than a driver’s decision to yield or not yield. The incoming driver is always responsible to yield and enter safely. But speed, impairment, distraction and all the other standard factors can still play a part.
Are roundabouts the way of the future?
While today’s traffic engineers routinely face criticism whenever they propose a new roundabout, the numbers back them up. The national trend is toward more roundabouts—not fewer—and most drivers and communities tend to quiet their complaints within a year.
This means that you will likely find yourself facing more roundabouts in the future, making it more important than ever that you know how to approach them safely. Roundabouts may help reduce the worst accidents, but drivers need to do their part.