“Watch-Out” Roundabouts: More Efficient Than Stop Lights

by Kathryn Kozowski •

The safety and efficiency of roundabouts has been hotly contested in countries that have been wary to embrace them, such as the United States. People have argued that roundabouts are more confusing than signal lights, and consequently lead to more frequent accidents. While it is true that roundabouts can be confusing for first-time users, officials argue that once people have used them a handful of times and understand how they work, roundabouts are significantly more efficient than traditional signal light intersections.

Europe first embraced roundabouts in 1956 when the United Kingdom installed their first “yield-at-entry” roundabout. Soon after many other European and British-influenced countries followed suit, and by the 1990s countries such as Australia and France had replaced many of their signal light intersections with modern roundabouts.

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The first benefit of roundabouts is they eliminate the need to come to a full stop when traffic is not heavy, which encourages a consistent flow of traffic – long periods stopped at signal lights waiting for the light to turn green becomes a thing of the past. Also, the “yield-at-entry” system improves fuel efficiency in vehicles since drivers are not always required to come to a full stop and then accelerate back up to speed.

Roundabouts are also safer. According to the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT), the overall occurrence of collisions has dropped dramatically in roundabout intersections, with injury collisions decreasing by 75%, fatality collisions by 90%, and pedestrian collisions by 40%. According to the WSDOT, this is because roundabouts eliminate the “beat the light” tendency that arises at signal light intersections, when drivers accelerate when approaching the intersection in order to reach the green light before it changes. Also, roundabouts eliminate left-turn yielding since they require drivers to yield before entering the flow of traffic, rather than cross multiple lanes of oncoming traffic.

A Roundabout

Another added benefit is that roundabouts do not operate on electricity, which means they require less maintenance, saving the city both time and money. Also, anyone who has ever had to drive through a city during a power outage knows that absolute chaos often breaks out at busy intersections when the signal lights fail and four-way-stop protocol has to be used. With roundabouts this chaos is avoided since they continue to function exactly the same.

Lastly, roundabouts are more aesthetically pleasing than traditional intersections. Imagine a city that has no signal lights shooting up into the air, but rather a series of roundabouts with possibly gardens or fountains in the centre. It can make for a much nicer looking space.