PHOTO: roundabout

IT SEEMS that local motorists either love or hate roundabouts— those intersection structures that first started appearing in the U.S. in the early 1990s that literally force you to drive in circles.

As The Free Lance–Star’s Scott Shenk recently reported, Spotsylvania County wants to install additional roundabouts at two busy intersections on Old Plank Road: one at Andora Drive and the other at Chancellor Road less than a mile away.

For those of us on Team Roundabout, this is good news. According to the Virginia Department of Transportation, roundabouts improve both the safety and efficiency of intersections on primary and secondary roads.

They improve safety by reducing the 32 potential points of conflict caused by vehicles crossing, merging or diverging in a typical four-way intersection to just eight. Roundabouts also eliminate the most dangerous points of conflict involving vehicles crossing the intersection from the opposite directions. So there are fewer overall accidents, and fewer head-on collisions, in intersections with roundabouts.

Roundabouts also improve road efficiency by not requiring all vehicles to stop, although drivers do have to slow down to safely navigate around them. And since after the initial installation, roundabouts require less maintenance than intersections with traffic signals and eliminate the need for dedicated turn lanes, they are a cost-effective and long-term solution for problem intersections.

An intersection would generally require about 25,000 vehicles crossing it daily to justify a single-lane roundabout, with up to 45,000 daily crossings for a multi-lane roundabout, so they’re not feasible everywhere. But they are safer, more efficient and more cost-effective than traditional four-way-stops.

Despite these clear advantages, and the fact that they are becoming more ubiquitous (there are more than 170 roundabouts in the commonwealth, and more are planned for Lafayette Boulevard in Fredericksburg) there are still a significant number of roundabout haters out there. VDOT noted that “public acceptance of roundabouts has often been found to be one of the biggest challenges facing agencies planning the first roundabout in an area.”

Last year, VDOT posted an updated video on YouTube explaining how to use a roundabout, but to date it had only gotten 761 views. A natural aversion to the unfamiliar and driver confusion, coupled with a lack of information about the advantages of roundabouts, may be to blame.

Drivers approaching a roundabout need to remember two basic things:

1. Slow down and look left (because the traffic is running counter-clockwise) before you enter the roundabout.

2. Yield to pedestrians, cyclists, and any vehicular traffic already in the circle. Failure to yield is the most common cause of accidents in roundabouts.

That’s a pretty low price to pay for reducing crashes resulting in injury or death by up to 75 percent, some day perhaps saving your life or the life of a loved one. Welcome to the team!

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