A roundabout, which is also called a road circle, traffic
circle, rotary, island or rotunda, is a type of junction or circular
intersection in which road traffic moves almost constantly in one direction
round a central island. The first British roundabout was designed by Frank
Blackmore and its use grew rapidly. Their use also took off in France and the
United States, where roughly one-half of the world’s roundabouts exist. Drivers
in Europe and the U.K. are quite used to roundabouts and driving schools have
incorporated them into their lessons many decades ago. However, roundabouts
shouldn’t be confused with traffic circles, which are designed for high-speed
What Is The Main Purpose Of Roundabouts?
In modern roundabouts, the entering traffic gives way to the
traffic that is already in the circle and there are various design rules meant
to increase safety. When compared to traffic signals, stop signs, and earlier
types of roundabouts, modern roundabouts have reduced the severity and
likelihood of collisions by lessening traffic speeds and minimizing head-on and
The traffic that exits the roundabout comes from one
direction, instead of three directions, and thus simplifying the visual
environment of a pedestrian. It allows traffic to move slowly allowing visual
engagement with people walking along the roads. Other benefits include
decreased driver confusion associated with junctions and reduced queues
associated with traffic lights.
It is very interesting to understand the safety implications
of roundabouts, which are dramatic. Roundabouts have 40% fewer crashes, 80%
fewer injuries, and 90% fewer serious injuries and fatalities than traditional
traffic junctions. This is according to a study done by the Insurance Institute
for Highway Safety. It has taken the U.S. a long time to catch on to
roundabouts, but they are now gaining momentum and better driving schools will
spend some time really discussing properly navigating these junctions.
Another interesting thing about roundabouts is that under
many conditions they have lesser traffic delays than traffic junctions.
However, at any intersection where traffic is not required to stop, roundabouts
may actually add a delay. Given that roundabouts are becoming more popular, a
good drivers education program should also spend time discussing the various
scenarios and what types of delays can be expected in these scenarios.
The acceptance of roundabouts in the U.S. is another interesting
item and provides a great window into the understanding people’s resistance to
change. Surveys have shown that public opinion prior to construction may be as
high as 68% opposed to the roundabout which changes to 73% in favor once the
roundabout is actively in use. This is an amazing statistic and really points
out that even though there are potential major benefits from a roundabout,
there is much resistance to its acceptance. This is an area where a modern
driving school can help substantially by getting their students familiar with
roundabouts and when possible making sure they actually utilize one in their
Well, there you have it – a brief history of roundabouts. As
they become more prominent in the U.S. it becomes more important to include
them as part of our students’ drivers education. And it also wouldn’t hurt for
a bit of parent education as well since it appears that roundabouts are here to
stay. Given both the reduction in delays and crashes, roundabouts are a welcome
road junction that hopefully over time becomes the predominant manner of
connecting two roads together.
Many thanks to Torgenson Law for sponsoring this post!