INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) – We’ve been taught, the shortest distance between two points is a straight line. But at intersections that’s not the safest way to go. Driving in circles is a much better option.
What you might call roundabout roulette actually keeps you and your family much safer than stop signs or stoplights.
Carmel is the roundabout capital of Indiana. When Carmel Mayor Jim Brainard took office in 1996 there were no roundabouts.
“I think it’s just a fear of the unknown for people that don’t live here, or may not be experienced with them,” Brainard says.
Now, there are 99 roundabouts in the city.
Carmel resident Fred Levenhagen says he likes them.
“First came across them when I lived in Massachusetts. First time I came across them there it was a little unusual. But once I understood them, I thought it was the only way to deal with it, a good flow of traffic,” he says.
Engineers estimate roundabouts handle four or five times more traffic than a standard traffic light intersection, keeping it moving much more smoothly. And roundabouts cost less to build and maintain. These are all important stats to Mayor Brainard. But it is the safety factor that really sold him on roundabouts.
“There’s an 80 percent reduction in injury accidents, 40 percent reduction in all accidents,” Brainard says.
Specifically, the U.S. Department of Transportation’s National Highway Administration reports that compared to stoplights or stop signs, roundabouts have a more than 90 percent reduction in fatalities nationwide, a 76 percent reduction in all injury crashes and a 35 percent reduction in all crashes.
“Because the speeds are so low, people can make adjustments. And drivers can, if they’re driving defensively, they can avoid those collisions,” says Mike McBride, who was the Carmel city engineer as roundabouts were first being built. Now, he is a transportation engineer for American Structurepoint, working a lot on roundabouts.
“I think that in general, people get confused about the signage and striping. The striping we use in roundabouts is slightly different than what we use in a standard intersection, and that’s intentional,” he says.
Using what’s called a dot and hook, the striping signifies which lane goes where. But, sometimes drivers get confused.
Michael Falls understands that confusion. His wife T-boned another car while driving in a Carmel roundabout.
“And she was in the right most lane. Another driver was in the lane just to her left. The other driver was exiting from that lane. And my wife didn’t realize that she had to exit from the lane she was in. She thought she could continue to go straight,” Falls said.
No one was injured in the wreck, but Falls said confusion caused the crash.
Navigating a roundabout begins before you go into it. Wait for a break in traffic, and then enter the circle.
And this is where it can get a little bit tricky. But essentially, if you’re going to go to the left, stay on the left side and it will take you around. If you’re going to go to the right or straight stay on the right side and follow the traffic.
And even if you make a mistake, because speeds are so slow, most wrecks don’t involve serious injuries. It is the mantra of roundabout supporters.
“Eighty percent reduction in injury accidents is substantial. We could save thousands of lives in the United States if we could miraculously turn all the stoplights into roundabouts – thousands on an annual basis,” Brainard says.
He points out that because accidents and injuries are down in Carmel, insurance rates have dropped. He says the city doesn’t have a full “jaws of life” crew in its fire department anymore because they don’t have the high speed impacts that they used to have and don’t need them very often. Brainard says there are plans to build 30 more roundabouts in Carmel.