Edlitorial: Roundabouts and safety
While a forum on a proposed traffic roundabout may have drawn sparse attendance, it raised the right issues regarding the intersection of Sherrills Ford and Briggs roads.
Highway safety is obviously foremost, but cost effectiveness and the impact on the surrounding community also must be taken into account.
Currently, the state proposes converting the intersection to a roundabout. Residents have suggested less costly changes such as a conventional traffic signal or some combination of the existing warning light, roadway rumble strips and improved sight lines.
If residents oppose the roundabout because they believe it’s an overpriced solution or they’re worried about its impact on nearby homes or businesses, those are legitimate concerns that need to be incorporated into the discussion, which was the purpose of the Monday forum organized by Rep. Harry Warren. But roundabouts often suffer from a misperception that can contribute to the negative perception. Roundabouts do not increase the likelihood of accidents at an intersection, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety and other safety watchdogs. The institute cites studies showing that roundabouts reduce accident rates and fatalities.
You can understand why if you compare the traffic flow at traditional four-way intersections to a roundabout. At four-way intersections, crashes typically occur because someone runs a stop sign or traffic signal, or turns in front of an oncoming car. Often, those crashes involve vehicles moving at high speeds in different directions. “With roundabouts,” the institute says, “these types of potentially serious crashes essentially are eliminated because vehicles travel in the same direction.” When accidents do occur, they generally involve merging vehicles traveling in the same direction, at lower speeds.
In a 2001 study of 23 intersections that converted from traffic signals to stop signs, the institute said that injury crashes were reduced by 80 percent and all crashes (including non-injury collisions) dropped by 40 percent. The institute also cites a 2004 study of 17 rural intersections in New York state where roundabouts reduced the injury crash rate by 84 percent, while eliminating fatal crashes during the study period. The UNC Highway Safety Research Center also has done studies on roundabouts and notes that “when properly designed, roundabouts offer a safer alternative to the traditional intersection, resulting in fewer serious vehicle crashes.”
While the state DOT thinks this intersection is a good roundabout candidate, many residents aren’t convinced. They’ve voiced some valid points for not rushing to install a roundabout, which may not be the most cost-effective solution here. But the safety findings are clear. Roundabouts reduce the frequency and severity of accidents.