Photo of newest roundabout in Ontario County
Before I explain why roundabouts (also called traffic circles) are popping up all around us, let me digress. I lived in France for five years back in the 70’s and 80’s and I never once came across a four-way stop. That’s because they don’t exist there. In fact, I recently had a French visitor driving my car in Geneva, New York, with me as passenger. When we approached the four-way stop on Castle and Brook Streets, he did not know what to do. After I explained to him the “first come first go” principle, he seemed perplexed, and asked me, “but what if we get to the stop sign at the same time?” Touché! Good question.
Traditional intersection? C’est fini! Roundabouts? C’est la vie!
For example, I live in Ontario County, and we have four new roundabouts constructed in the last five years. They are at the following intersections: County Road 23/McIvor/Fort Hill intersection (shown above), County Roads 10 and 46, County Roads 10 and 4, and another at County Roads 41 and 8.
Why is the French roundabout à la mode over here? A picture is worth a thousand words.
A standard perpendicular intersection crash looks like this:
But a typical roundabout crash looks like this:
Which one would you rather be involved in?
So you probably have already guessed why we are converting to roundabouts on this side of the great pond: Traffic engineers in this country have finally discovered that roundabouts eliminate many deadly crashes at intersections. If a driver makes a faut pas by failing to stop at the sign – ooh la la! – he could get smacked broadside at 55-mile per hour. But with roundabouts, there are no more T-bones or head-on collisions with left-turning vehicles! Roundabout collisions are of the sideswipe, low impact variety. Additionally, drivers (once they get used to them), like roundabouts because they don’t have to stop and only have to worry about looking LEFT as they go through the intersection rather than stopping and looking both ways. And traffic keeps moving in all directions! Added benefit: better fuel economy since there is no stopping and starting up again.
Traditional intersection? C’est fini! Roundabouts? They’re la crème de la crème for safety.
The safety benefits are stark. When a roundabout is installed, serious injuries at that intersections dip to by around 80% according to the Federal Highway Administration.
Some folks who are not used to roundabouts find them confusing. Once you get used to them, though, c-est facile! They are easy to navigate. The main things to remember are:
- Traffic always flows in a counterclockwise direction
- Slow down to 20 miles per hour (this is usually the posted speed).
- Look LEFT and yield to any vehicles already in the circle.
- As you go through the circle, remember that vehicles entering the circle must yield to you (but –atention! – be vigilant in case they don’t).
- When you are ready to exit the circle, just signal right and – voila!
- Remember that if you want to make a direct left turn, don’t! You can’t because the circle goes only right. Instead drive ¾ around the circle and turn right.
- If the roundabout has two lanes, use the right lane for turning right, and the left lane for turning left. If you are going straight, you can usually use either lane, but check for signage indicating otherwise.
Here’s what a standard “roundabout ahead” sign looks like:
See a video with roundabout instructions here.
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