Roundabouts are by no means a new roadway phenomenon, but they have become much more common than they once were because of the many benefits associated with them. If you haven’t seen a roundabout, they are circular shaped intersections that take the place of a traditional intersection. The film “Once Around” has a roundabout as a featured part of the movies storyline and many British films show roundabouts in scenes; so you may have seen one without being aware of the name applied to them.
Several factors, in combination, make roundabouts safer to drive in than traditional intersections or four-way stops. The circular shape cuts down on the different angles that a vehicle can be struck at or strike another vehicle moving through the roundabout. Common collisions at traffic signal intersections and stop sign intersections are right-angle, left-turn and head-on collisions. These can be serious because of the high speeds vehicles are traveling. Roundabouts are driven at low speeds with all vehicles traveling in the same direction so when accidents do happen, they are not as serious.
Studies done on roundabouts and their ability to decrease injury accidents and accidents in general vary on the percentages, but all show a reduction in injuries and accidents and the elimination of fatal crashes. Crashes are still possible; but with proper driving etiquette and safety precautions by drivers, most can be avoided.
Roundabouts cut down on stop and start traffic. This reduces fuel consumption and air pollution. Traffic also flows in a more efficient way. Drivers don’t have to be delayed at traffic lights during high volume traffic times and almost no delay occurs when traffic is lighter.
The ability to beautify an area is increased by a roundabout. The center of the roundabout can be a place for plants and flowers or the usage of other landscaping materials can create individual looks for different areas of the country as the weather dictates.
While not all drivers are yet familiar with these road features and may not know how to handle them, once they get used to driving them they should find that they are much more efficient than a traffic signal or stop sign would be at some intersections. They are not difficult to learn how to drive through and they create less confusion than a four way stop can. Many drivers continue to be confused and don’t understand the rules about right of way at multiple stop intersections.
Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, Roundabouts Q&A
New Mexico Department of Transportation