Dispelling Common Myths About Roundabouts

Roundabout road sign

Myth: Roundabouts prolong commutes

Fact: Roundabouts keep traffic moving. The major delay on a morning or evening commute is usually the time spent sitting at traffic lights. Eliminating the need to stop and wait reduces delays.

Myth: Roundabouts are difficult to navigate

Fact: Using a roundabout is very similar to making a right turn from a stop sign or traffic light. At either of these, a right-turning driver stops at the stop bar, looks for conflicting traffic coming from the left, chooses an acceptable gap in the traffic flow, and then turns right onto the cross street.

Myth: Roundabouts are not safe for pedestrians

Fact: Roundabouts are safer for pedestrians than other typical intersections. Pedestrians need only cross one direction of traffic at a time at each roundabout approach, as compared with two-way and all-way stop intersections, and they are generally crossing a shorter distance through a roundabout than intersection. In addition, the speeds of motorists entering and exiting a roundabout are reduced and because the driver and pedestrian have to decide when to go, they are more likely to be more alert and aware of each other.

Myth: Roundabouts cause more accidents than the stops signs or traffic lights that they replace

Fact: The most serious kinds of crashes occur at conventional intersections where higher speeds occur. Accidents that occur at roundabouts tend to be less serious because traffic speeds are slower. In 2001, the USA’s Institute for highway safety reviewed 24 intersections around the United States that had been converted from stop signs or traffic lights to modern roundabouts. At those intersections, all crashes were reduced by 39 percent. As well, serious crashes were reduced by 76 percent.

Myth: Roundabouts cost more

Fact: Modern roundabouts are usually less expensive than signalized intersections. Expensive traffic light equipment, as well as maintenance of that equipment, is not needed in roundabouts, which make them less expensive to maintain.

Myth: Roundabouts are difficult for older and newer drivers

Fact: Since roundabouts are less common than other intersections, they can be confusing in the beginning for all kinds of drivers. However, as roundabouts become more common and motorists become more familiar with how they work, the initial confusion gets replaced with confident drivers. Most people quickly learn their operation. And, because of the low speeds, there is generally much less risk of a crash or injury compared to a traditional intersection.

Myth: Roundabouts are difficult for larger vehicles

Fact: Roundabouts have design features specifically intended to accommodate trucks, buses, tractors, and larger vehicles. The main characteristic is a truck apron, a slightly raised area around the center island allowing larger trucks easier circulation in the roundabout. It is typically three to four inches higher than the paved roadway. A truck apron is used instead of increasing the normal driving width to prevent smaller vehicles from achieving higher speeds through the roundabout. With a properly designed truck apron, a roundabout is able to accommodate all types of larger vehicles.