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Are roundabouts safer than traffic lights?

On Behalf of | Feb 20, 2024 | Car Accidents

Although they are a staple on European roadways, roundabouts are not as common in the U.S. Yet in the quest to improve road safety, cities nationwide are replacing signals with traffic circles.

Both systems aim to regulate traffic flow, but many people wonder if roundabouts are actually safer.

Circular logic

With their circular design, roundabouts are notable for reducing the severity of accidents. Unlike traditional intersections controlled by traffic signals, roundabouts eliminate the potential for high-speed, right-angle collisions. Vehicles circulating in a roundabout move at lower speeds, creating a safer environment for all road users.

The Federal Highway Administration’s proven safety countermeasures include roundabouts because they significantly reduce the number of fatal crashes. The continuous flow of traffic in a roundabout minimizes the risk of head-on collisions, which are often more severe at intersections governed by signals. This circular logic in road design proves effective in mitigating the severity of accidents and enhancing overall safety.

Efficient motion

Another factor contributing to the safety of roundabouts is the continuous flow of traffic. Unlike signals, which enforce stops and starts, traffic circles allow for a smoother and more constant movement of vehicles. This uninterrupted flow reduces the likelihood of rear-end collisions, a common occurrence at signals when drivers accelerate abruptly after a red light.

The improved efficiency of roundabouts also decreases the chances of gridlock and congestion. With vehicles moving in a single direction within the circular structure, traffic keeps flowing, minimizing the probability of pile-ups and long queues commonly associated with signals during peak hours.

Pedestrian- and cyclist-friendly

Beyond vehicle safety, roundabouts also provide a less risky environment for those on foot or bikes. Signals often create complex crossing scenarios with multiple directions to monitor. In contrast, traffic circles simplify pedestrian crossings by providing designated crosswalks and refuge islands. This streamlined approach enhances safety for pedestrians and cyclists.

The challenge of unfamiliarity

It is important to recognize that some people are not used to roundabouts. In places where they are uncommon, drivers might feel confused or intimidated at first. Teaching and spreading the word through campaigns are key to helping drivers understand how to use traffic circles. This way, they can stay safe and get the most out of the benefits of roundabouts.

There are clearly many benefits to transitioning more intersections to roundabouts. As they become more common, driver familiarity is likely to increase, further solidifying their reputation as a safer alternative to traditional traffic signals.


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