Carmel, Indiana has become internationally known for its roundabout network. Since the late 1990’s Carmel has been building and replacing signalized intersections with roundabouts. Carmel now has over 100 roundabouts, more than any other city in the United States.
I've driven many roundabouts, both in the United States (including Carmel, Indiana) and Europe. I can tell you this... they're not my favorite. There are simply too many people who don't know how to properly navigate a roundabout. I know that the idea behind roundabouts is to keep traffic flowing and to increase pedestrian safety. However, I've had several near collisions with people who don't know how to properly drive in a roundabout.
According to extensive research and traffic data taken from around the world, roundabouts decrease intersection collisions while increasing traffic efficiency. This idea is wonderful in theory; however, confusion and lack of education on how to use roundabouts can make them as dangerous as normal intersections. The three most common errors made by drivers in roundabouts are:
- Disregarding yields: Yield signs are posted at roundabouts to remind motorists who has the right of way. When entering a roundabout, you must yield to any traffic that is already in the circle, as they have the right of way. Ignoring these signs, or thinking you can get ahead by speeding up rather than slowing down, is extremely dangerous.
- Braking while in the circle: Roundabouts are designed so that traffic can flow continuously. When you suddenly stop, you can cause serious consequences. If you become confused and miss your turn off, don’t stop! Instead, continue around the circle in order to get you bearings and find your exit. If you slam on your brakes, you could cause the car behind you to rear end you.
- Mid-circle lane changes: Since roundabouts are circles, lanes break off around the edges and veer in different directions depending on where you need to go. The entire purpose of a roundabout is to limit the need for traffic to cross by allowing cars to smoothly enter and exit without needing to stop and turn. In order to keep traffic from crossing each other, lane markings are clearly indicated before roundabout entrances. These markings allow you to make sure you enter in the correct lane for your eventual exit. If you enter in the wrong lane, you unfortunately need to follow it through. This means that you’ll either have to take the wrong exit and turn around or continue around the circle until you once again approach your exit and can legally follow your lane through it.
A few years ago, Jeffersonville, Indiana opened a new roundabout and within 9 months there were 134 crashes -- including two semi trucks that tipped over. The Indiana Department of Transportation has boasted national figures that show roundabouts are safer, more efficient and greener. According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, roundabouts (compared to four-way intersections) increase traffic capacity by 20 to 50 percent and decrease traffic delays by 20 percent, thus saving fuel use and reducing pollution.
According to the Federal Highway Administration, roundabouts are proven to decrease fatalities by 90 percent and all crashes by 35 percent. However, the Indiana Department of Transportation has stated that it excludes data from the first three to 12 months of a roundabout opening because "it should be expected that motorists are adjusting to the new intersection during this time frame." In other words, the transportation department knows that there's going to be a spike in accidents during the first year following a roundabout opening and doesn't want that data included in its safety records.
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