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Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Keven Moore on Insurance: Are modern roundabout intersections really safer?

The image above shows a model of a traffic roundabout. The traffic management pattern is becoming increasingly more prevailant in many growing metropolitan areas.

 

On Oct. 15, 1979, one of my Lafayette High junior classmates and another recently graduated classmate in from the military were killed at the intersection of Alexandria and Old Frankfort Pike when they pulled into the path of an oncoming truck. The story and the details of the accident were horrific and left an imbedded memory of mortality that I have never forgotten.

 

I didn’t know either of them very well, though I suspect I know what the members of both families would say today about the new modern roundabout at that intersection. What if it had existed back then?

 

I work for a commercial and personal lines independent insurance agency, and I hear of auto accidents just about every day. However, as a father of a young driver recently involved in a minor not-at-fault accident in a modern roundabout on Reynolds Road, the question I was left with was: Is the Reynold’s Road roundabout really safe?

 

The answer to that question is “Yes”, but like President Clinton once said, that would all depend on how you define the word “IS” ?

 

A modern roundabout is an unsignalized one-way circular intersection engineered to maximize safety and minimize traffic delays. By my initial eyewitness accounts I can honestly say that back in 2001 when they first installed the roundabout on Reynolds Road in Lexington, I found it to be an accident waiting to happen. As I was nearly struck on numerous occasions as drivers were at first struggling to navigate thru the circle safely. I attribute this to the initial learning curve for local residents, but as time has since progressed I would suspect that the frequency of accidents have decreased at this intersection, regardless of my daughter’s minor fender bender.

 

Some even believe that the Reynold’s Road roundabout has some design flaws and could have been constructed better, according to Tom Creasey a transportation planning engineer for Entran, who was quoted in the Herald Leader back in April 17, 2009. Which leads me to believe that this intersection doesn’t fully represent the full benefits of a modern roundabout.

 

The fact of the matter is that the number of injuries related to auto accidents where these roundabout intersections have been installed go way down.

 

By using the law of physics this can be explained simply because everybody is driving in the same direction, as roundabouts eliminate left-hand turns and the severe T-bone crashes of signalized intersections. The geometry of roundabouts merely eradicates many of the angles and traffic stream that create opportunities for vehicle crashes; particularly the right-angle and rear-end accidents that produce fatalities and severe injuries.

 

The modern roundabout is designed to slow down traffic entering the intersection to about 15-20 MPH. Therefore the lack of right angles, combined with reductions in speed, make the intersections safer for pedestrians and bicyclists as well as people in cars. Drivers have more reaction time, so there’s a smaller chance of collision and when crashes do happen, most will be minor like my daughter’s accident.

 

While a standard traffic light costs much less than the six and sometimes seven figure modern roundabout cost to construct, the roundabout is actually a better long-term traffic solution and more cost effective in the long run for municipalities.

 

For years in the United States traffic signals have been seen as a cure to prevent auto accidents at these intersections. In fact the first patented modern traffic signal was actually created in 1920 by a former Kentuckian Garret Augustus Morgan, the son of a former slave born just down the road in Paris, KY. But with any safety solution, there are always residual consequences such as lengthy delays, congestion, driver frustration, road rage, and the severity of collisions is likely to worsen.

 

The modern traffic signals consume electricity, require costly man-hours to install and to maintain, and often times require traffic engineers to spend countless hours in court, as attorneys for the plaintiff try to drag them into court to argue that traffic signals rather than any driver neglect caused a crash.

 

According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety modern roundabouts, used in place of stop signs and traffic signals, motor vehicle crashes have declined by about 40 percent, and those involving injuries have been reduced by about 80 percent.

 

Another study from the Researchers at Ryerson Polytechnic University, the Institute, and the University of Maine studied crashes and injuries at 24 intersections before and after construction of roundabouts, states that collisions involving fatal or incapacitating injuries fell as much as 90 percent, while reducing traffic delays as much as 75 percent.

 

Drivers assume that because there are so many traffic signals in our communities, that they must be efficient. The fact is that they are not. Think about it, how many times have you sat idle at light when there weren’t any cars coming from the other direction on the cross street? When half of the cars are stopped at an intersection at any given time, delays are inevitable as it is counterintuitive to traffic flow efficiency.

 

An example of a modern traffic roundabout.

Modern roundabouts are safer, cheaper, more efficient, have a higher capacity for more traffic flow, and can be very aesthetically pleasing as a gateway to cities and communities. As Federal and State highway funds are disseminated in the future, modern roundabouts will continue to be constructed in both urban and rural areas to save lives and accommodate for higher capacity of vehicles rolling up and down the roadways.

 

For tree-huggers of the world not yet convinced, the modern roundabouts also cut vehicle emissions and fuel consumption by reducing the time drivers sit idling at intersections, thus leaving a smaller carbon footprint and reducing global-warming. For more information on modern roundabouts click -> here

 

The very first modern roundabout was introduced in 1966 in the United Kingdom to resolve dangerous traffic intersections. Since they were first introduced overseas they have started to gain rapid acceptance in the United States as an intersection control strategy. According to Roundabouts USA, as of 2010 there are over 2,500 known sites in the U.S. with many more mini and subdivision sites. This trend is expected to continue to increase as local and state officials look for ways to reduce accidents and increase traffic capacity.

 

Some cities have fully adopted the modern turnabouts such as the city of Carmel, Ind. just outside of Indianapolis. Back when we were building a home just north of that city in 1994 a five-mile trip down Keystone Avenue from 146th to 96th Street took 15-20 minutes due to the traffic lights and long stops. Today, thanks to new modern roundabout interchanges, that trip now takes about 6 minutes.

 

Carmel, with its many trails and bike lanes, loves to promote itself as a pedestrian- and bike-friendly city. However if you drive around the city you will notice that with over 400 mile of roads, they only have 38 traffic lights. Over the past 15 years, Carmel has aggressively swapped out their stoplights with free-flowing roundabouts and roundabout interchanges. According to one recent Indystar report, the city currently has 57 roundabouts, more than any city of its size in America, and there are 34 more planned in the near future .

 

With the growing popularity, what concerns me as a father and safety professional is that I don’t think that the State of Kentucky has done enough to educate new drivers about this soon-to-be growing phenomenon. If you read the State of Kentucky Drivers manual for new drivers, they only dedicate about 177 words to this hazard, which in my opinion isn’t enough.. So if you have a new driver in your family, I would suggest that you have them view this 8 minute video from the Kentucky State Police which addresses roundabout safety in great depth.

 

As I have provided you with a convincing argument that traffic signals are bad and that the modern roundabouts are good, I hope that the ghost of Garret Augustus Morgan doesn’t visit me in my sleep tonight. Or even worse, that his family doesn’t try to attach me to a class-action lawsuit for negatively affecting any residue income from the patent for his modern traffic signal. But like all inventions, newer and better inventions are sure to come along and the modern roundabouts are proven to saves lives and increase traffic flow and our local authorities and highway officials need to construct these at every opportunity.

 

Be Safe My Friends.

 

Keven Moore is director of Risk Management Services for Roeding Insurance (www.roedinginsurance.com). He has a bachelor’s degree from University of Kentucky, a master’s from Eastern Kentucky University and 25-plus years of experience in the safety and insurance profession. He lives in Lexington with his family and works out of both the Lexington and Northern Kentucky offices. Keven can be reached at kmoore@roeding.com.

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