After years of service in Europe and Australia it seems the traffic circle is becoming a part of the American traffic landscape as well. In states like Washington the traffic circle, or round-a-bout, is replacing some 4-way stops and traffic lights. While others are being planned in the construction phase of new roads and neighborhoods. All these new traffic circles mean that more and more Americans must face their fear and dread of this mysterious traffic anomaly.
However, the traffic circle is really less of an anomaly and more about efficiency and convenience. For 26 years I myself lived in a land of 4-way stops signs and traffic lights, but for the last 7 have enjoyed driving in a traffic circle environment. It did not take long for me to appreciate the ease and efficiency of the traffic circle; provided that they are designed for proper flow.
The IIHS (Insurance Institute for Highway Safety) has estimated that there are currently 1,000 round-a-bouts in the U.S. and approximately 150-200 new ones constructed each year. Some way, some how, many more Americans will have to face their fear and drive through a traffic circle. There will not always be a side route for escape or a traffic light diversion.
The IIHS calculates that 45% of traffic accidents happen at intersections. A lot happens at intersections and maybe out of their normalcy some drivers have grown complacent in their driving. According toÂ research performed by theÂ IIHS inÂ 2001Â thereÂ were 80% fewer accidents at traffic circles than other intersections in the U.S. Whether those fewer accidents were because of better planning or more astute driving practices in circles is debatable, but the numbers alone are striking.
Another reported advantage of the traffic circle is the efficiency. Instead of sitting idle at a traffic light waiting for your turn to go, sipping away all that pricey fuel, you are constantly moving forward in a traffic circle. The flow of traffic continues on and is rarely encumbered by a long term stop of motion.
The advantages of traffic circles are all there. Once you have had the experience of driving through them on a daily basis you just might begin to curse the substitution of traffic lights on new roads when a traffic circle may have served better. While they may seem a daunting endeavor to the inexperienced, for those of us who live with them every day many of us would not have it any other way.