"Hey, look kids. There's Big Ben and there's Parliament … again."
Maybe it's all those years of "European Vacation" reruns, watching Clark Griswold stuck in the inescapable traffic circle. Maybe it's lingering fear of merry-go-round induced dizziness. Maybe we just rely on the predictability of a red light telling us to stop and a green light telling us to go. Whatever it is, Americans don't like roundabouts.
But we should.
Roundabouts reduce injury crashes by 75% at intersections where stop signs or signals were previously used for traffic control, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS). They cut deadly collisions by 90% and pedestrian collisions by 40%.
Because drivers yield to traffic inside roundabouts, travel in only one direction, and enter and exit using only right turns, roundabouts virtually eliminate T-bone and head-on collisions. With no stopping (except to yield to traffic already in the roundabout), they remove temptation to speed up and beat the light.
Part of the reason roundabouts get no respect may be that people just aren't familiar enough with them. (In France, for example, every 45th intersection is a roundabout; in the United States, it's one in 1,118.) Nationwide, there are about 5,000 roundabouts, with more in the works.
IIHS has found through phone surveys that drivers typically oppose construction of roundabouts in their communities only to flip-flop their opinion a year or so later. Perhaps they realize roundabouts save time (cutting delays by 89% and the need to stop by 56%, as shown in a three-state study by IIHS) and even boost mileage. Without all the stopping, idling, and starting, roundabouts can cut fuel consumption by 30% compared to intersections, according to the Washington State Department of Transportation.
Now that's something even Clark Griswold could love.