America, the land of traffic lights and home of the stop sign intersection.
However, city planners across the U.S. are starting to make changes. It seems roundabouts will be more common in the future, as is the case for one town in Indiana.
The roundabout capital of the U.S.
Carmel, Indiana is a town that you probably don't know much about. It is a charming suburban community located about 16 miles north of Indianapolis. While it may be easy to overlook this small suburban town, it does have one claim to fame: it is the roundabout capital of the U.S.
Today, Carmel has 150 roundabouts and traffic circles, versus only having 19 traffic lights, as reported by the
All About Roundabouts Society. With so many roundabouts, Carmel provides some excellent data in measuring the safety and efficiency of these circular intersections.
The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety(IIHS) completed a thorough study of the effects of roundabouts on safety. According to the study, all crashes are reduced by about 63% with single-lane roundabouts. Furthermore, injury-causing accidents are reduced by an impressive 84%.
Multilane roundabouts don't have the same benefits. They tend to have slightly more accidents than traditional American intersections, but also have fewer injury-causing accidents. However, the number of accidents over time tends to decrease as drivers become more familiar with how multi-lane roundabouts work.
How are they better for road safety?
The reasoning behind this can be a bit speculative. One leading hypothesis is that drivers are forced to pay attention at roundabouts. At traffic lights, drivers tend to follow what the light says without really paying attention to other drivers.
The decrease in injury-causing accidents is more clear-cut. A head-on or right-angle collision is almost impossible in a roundabout. Instead, most accidents tend to be side swipes which are far less likely to cause an injury. Additionally, traffic going through a roundabout will be much slower than a traffic light, meaning any collisions that do occur will be at safer speeds.
Roundabouts mean less traffic
Roundabouts are so safe that they are likely to be the future of American roadways. Even "dog one" roundabouts are being considered for major highways and interstates, which are far more efficient than traditional on and off-ramps.
In the same IIHS report, it was discovered that roundabouts can reduce traffic delays anywhere between 13%-90%. Granted, a lot depends on the specific intersection as to how much time a roundabout will reduce traffic.
But in just about every case, roundabouts do save time. It's quite intuitive, as drivers won't have to worry about long red lights or the stop-and-go shuffling through stop signs. In a way, you could say roundabouts are the legalization of so-called "California stops" or "rolling stops."
Another nice little benefit to roundabouts is the reduction of stops a vehicle needs to make at stop sign intersections. This means less wear and tear on brakes and less fuel consumption, which will save you money.
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