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What's the Deal with Roundabouts in Washington?

More and more states across the U.S. have been adding roundabouts to ease the flow of traffic. Washington State has been building roundabouts since 1997 and has an estimated 120 as of the end of 2012, with plans to build more, according to the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT).

As experienced roundabout car accident lawyers in Seattle, the legal team at Hardwick & Pendergast, P.S. is familiar with roundabouts, but understands that many other Washington residents may not be.

Why are these odd circular roads with various entrance and exit points such a big deal? Aren't they confusing? Don't they take up a lot of space? Do they really improve the flow of traffic that much more? The truth is, if roundabouts are designed and built correctly, they are actually very beneficial to alleviating traffic congestion and improving overall traffic flow. Below are some main points to uncover the mystery of roundabouts and why DOTs across the country are making use of them.

How Do Roundabouts Work?

A roundabout is referred to as such because it takes you "around" a circular multi-way intersection and is intended to replace the traditional traffic-signal or stop sign intersection. They do not necessarily require more space than a traditional intersection.

Modern roundabouts in the U.S. have vehicles moving in a counterclockwise direction around a raised center island where entering traffic must yield the right-of-way to circulating traffic. The idea is that traffic is deflected around the island, but always moving, while vehicles enter and exit according to their destinations. An image displaying common roundabout maneuvers may be found on the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) here: http://www.iihs.org/iihs/topics/t/roundabouts/topicoverview.

Are Roundabouts Safer?

According to IIHS, the most common types of car accidents in traditional intersections are left-turn, right-angle, and head-on crashes. These types of crashes are not possible with a well-designed modern roundabout because it eliminates those directions of movement. Likewise, without traffic signals, drivers would not be rushing to catch the green light, which would decrease incident rates for rear-end collisions. A 2001 IIHS study found that converting traffic signal intersections to roundabouts decreased all accidents by 40 percent and all injury accidents by 80 percent.

Roundabouts are also considered safer for pedestrians, because they would only have to cross the road just one direction of traffic at a time. Until then, they walk around the circular roadway's perimeter sidewalk.

Roundabouts are not crash-free, however, and crashes do occur. Common types of collisions that occur in roundabouts are rear-end, run-off-road, entering-circulating, and sideswipe collisions.

Giving Roundabouts a Chance

Roundabouts may seem confusing but they definitely have benefits, including easing traffic congestion and reducing accident risks. But drivers still need to be careful to follow all road markings and right-of-way laws in order to avoid an accident. Likewise, being distracted while entering, circulating, or exiting a roundabout can have disastrous consequences.

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