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Are roundabouts really safer than intersections?

You may have noticed encountering more and more roundabouts as you drive in newer Louisville area housing developments and when busy intersections get overhauled. The current plan to redesign parts of Eastern Parkway in Louisville includes adding two roundabouts to slow vehicles down and help prevent more accidents. Yet, you don’t feel that comfortable using roundabouts. Are roundabouts really safer than traditional intersections?

Roundabouts and traffic safety

When a new roundabout recently opened near Morehead, Kentucky, drivers had no idea how to navigate it. Traffic ended up going every which way, with drivers choosing the wrong lanes to enter and having to slow down to avoid hitting other vehicles going the wrong way too. However, according to 2019 research from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), drivers do learn how to safely use roundabouts over time and as a result accident rates go down about 9% because of those roundabouts. Rates for accidents with injuries decline even more, sometimes up to 70-80%.

Here are some reasons roundabouts end up being safer and reducing accidents:

  • Roundabouts promote lower speeds and less traffic congestion.
  • Roundabouts have lower conflict points (eight potential conflict spots versus 32 in a traditional intersection).
  • Drivers aren’t speeding up to beat a red light before entering a roundabout.
  • Drivers only have to deal with one direction of traffic in a roundabout.
  • Roundabouts eliminate the risks of head-on collisions, left-turn accidents and right-angle crashes, all which come with significant injury risks.
  • Pedestrians can avoid having to cross traffic to get from one street to another.

Navigating roundabouts

If you feel uncertain on how to navigate roundabouts, you can follow these simple rules:

  1. When you see a sign for an approaching roundabout, slow down and watch for a yield sign as you enter the roundabout. You likely may need to yield to through traffic.
  2. Stay in your lane if it is a single-lane roundabout.
  3. If it is a multilane roundabout, you may need to get in the left lane if you need to turn left onto the intersecting road. If you need to turn right or go straight when exiting the roundabout, you may need stay in the right.

With a little practice, you can learn to navigate roundabouts well and reduce the risks of accidents when roads intersect. More importantly, you can ensure you and those you share the road with can arrive safely at your intended destinations.

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