The history of the modern roundabout started in the United Kingdom approximately 50 years ago. Once scarce in the United States and commonplace in Australia and France, they are becoming ever more commonplace stateside. Considered a significantly safer option to stop signs and traffic lights, the layout improves traffic control and is considered better for the environment. In addition, less idling results in reductions in emissions and fuel use.
Roundabouts in the modern era are smaller than what is known as rotaries or traffic circles. Vehicles negotiate sharper curves when they enter and travel at slower speeds. Many have traffic signals and stop signs to prevent collisions.
Circular travel in the United States
U.S. roundabouts, first introduced in Nevada in 1990, see vehicles traveling counterclockwise next to a center island. Traffic entering yields the right of way to traffic already in the circle. Speeds range from 15 to 35 miles per hour. More importantly, the layout forces drivers to slow down, reducing the chance of collisions involving other vehicles and pedestrians.
Many cities and states are not as enthusiastic about circular travel. However, they are gaining more acceptance. According to the Federal Highway Administration, roundabouts are in the top 20 when it comes to evidence-based safety countermeasures.
Traditional intersections with traffic lights and stop signs primarily have right-angle, left-turn, and head-on collisions. Roundabouts have come close to eliminating crashes due to vehicles traveling in the same direction at reduced speeds. Studies reveal a reduction of injury crashes by up to 80 percent and all accidents by up to 47 percent.
Roundabouts are here to stay in the United States. Still, accidents continue when drivers are not paying attention to the circular road ahead of them.