Are Roundabouts Safer than Standard Road Intersections?

There is no doubt that roundabouts improve safety. Studies have clearly shown that roundabouts are safer than traditional stop signs or a signal-controlled intersection.

Roundabouts are relatively new in Vermont. Over the last several years, roundabouts were constructed on Route 15 in Jeffersonville, Hyde Park and Morrisville. While we had to learn how to drive around roundabouts, the vast majority of Vermonters easily learned how to navigate them.

Roundabouts reduce injury crashes by 75% at intersections where stop signs or signals were previously used for traffic control, according to a study by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety and by the Federal Highway Administration. In particular, studies have shown that the roundabouts typically achieve the following results:

●37% reduction in overall collisions
●75% reduction in injury collisions
●90% reduction in fatality collisions
●40% reduction in pedestrian collisions

Some roundabouts are constructed without any pedestrians in mind, as is the case for the three Lamoille County roundabouts on Route 15 although the State of Vermont should have accounted for pedestrian crossings. There are pedestrian crosswalks at the roundabout at the intersection of Route 2 and Route 100 in Waterbury.

There are several reasons why roundabouts help reduce the likelihood and severity of collisions:

●Vehicles are traveling at a low speed. Drivers must slow down and yield to traffic before entering a roundabout. Speeds in a roundabout are typically between 15 and 20 miles per hour. The few collisions that occur in roundabouts are typically minor and cause few injuries since they occur at such low speeds.

●No light to beat. Roundabouts are designed to promote a continuous, circular flow of traffic. Drivers need only yield to traffic before entering a roundabout; if there is no traffic in the roundabout, drivers are not required to stop. Because traffic is constantly flowing through the intersection, drivers do not have the incentive to speed up and try and “beat the light,” like they might at a traditional intersection.

●One-way travel. Roads entering a roundabout are curved to direct drivers into the intersection and help them travel counterclockwise around the roundabout. The curved roads and one-way travel around the roundabout reduce the possibilities for T-bone and head-on collisions.

The intersection of VT Route 100 and VT Route 15 in Hyde Park was particularly dangerous, resulting in a number of fatal collisions and other crashes in which people suffered serious injuries over the years. For whatever reasons, some people driving south on VT Route 100 approaching this intersection did not understand that there was a stop sign and a major intersection ahead, despite many warning signs. There have been no fatal collisions since the construction of the roundabout at the intersections of Route 100, Route 15 and Church Street in Hyde Park.

The Vermont Agency of Transportation has the following recommendations when driving a roundabout:

1. Slow down when approaching the roundabout. The curvature of a roundabout is typically designed for speeds of 15 – 25 miles per hour. Pay special attention to pedestrian cautions, if there are any.

2. Yield to traffic in the roundabout. Vehicles in the roundabout always have the right-of-way. Do not merge as if entering a highway.

3. Stay a safe distance behind large trucks and emergency vehicles. They will usually need additional space to safely navigate the roundabout. The raised apron around the central island allows for this additional space. Standard sized vehicles should not drive over the truck apron.

4. Do not stop within the circular portion of the roundabout. If you miss your exit, circle the roundabout again. (Please see Chevy Chase in European Vacation.)

5. Use your right turn signal when exiting the roundabout.