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The road safety benefits of roundabouts

According to road safety advocates, hundreds of lives and millions of dollars in taxpayer money could be saved each year in Illinois and around the country if some traditional intersections were replaced by roundabouts. Roundabouts, which are often referred to as traffic circles, are ubiquitous in Europe but quite rare in the United States. However, that may change in the years ahead as the safety benefits of replacing traffic lights and stop signs with roundabouts that slow down rather than stop traffic become more widely understood.

Researchers have discovered that replacing intersections with roundabouts actually leads to an increase in collisions but a significant reduction in fatalities and serious injuries. This is because the accidents that take place on roundabouts are generally low-speed fender benders rather than highway speed head-on or T-bone collisions. Experts say that roundabouts are less deadly because drivers entering them do not have to determine if they have time to clear the intersection before a light changes or an approaching car arrives.

The safety benefits of roundabouts are currently being put to the test in North Carolina. In June, state officials ordered roundabouts to be built at several car accident hotspots as part of the Tar Heel State’s Road to Zero safety initiative. Lawmakers expect the roundabouts to reduce serious injuries by as much as 89 percent, and they also say that the project’s $1.2 million price tag will save the state’s taxpayers about $2.5 million every year in reduced emergency response costs.

Accidents that take place at busy intersections are often catastrophic, but determining who was at fault is often a relatively straightforward process for police. This is because many congested intersections are monitored by cameras to identify and ticket red light jumpers. Such evidence can be used by law enforcement and personal injury attorneys pursuing compensation for accident victims to establish what took place in the moments leading up to a crash.