A Brief and Loose History of the Intersection
It wasn't so long ago that small towns in America were installing their first electric traffic light. Traffic had become so busy, even in little municipalities, that the traffic cop was overwhelmed. Often their safety was at risk, as well, with drivers ignoring speed limits and speeding through intersections without any consideration for the safety of the poor guy stuck on the corner directing traffic. They even decided to give the traffic cop his own little island on which to perch while he held up the variety of hand signals meant to provide some basis of organization to the intersection. This proved to do little but give drivers something more prominent to aim for. I'm kidding, of course, but it wasn't long before town planners realized that they needed a traffic signal. Not only for the well being of the guy who had been there directing traffic all day, but for the flow of traffic itself.
The problem with traffic signals lies in the fact that while one direction of traffic is supposed to be stopped, the other traffic crosses the same path the stopped traffic will take. If somebody fails to stop, there's a sweet spot right in the middle of the intersection where a collision is all but guaranteed. Not only that, a total failure to stop means a car entering the intersection at the wrong time may be traveling at speeds of up to 55 miles per hour. Statistics show that intersections are deadly, for this reason. It doesn't matter how well your brakes perform.
The roundabout effectively cures the problem of the high speed collision at an intersection of two heavily traveled throughways. In fact, a roundabout can provide a safe method of crossing for five, six, or more roadways depending on the size of the circle. How does it cure the problem? I can hear you saying that roundabuts are so confusing that they surely are the cause for some accidents, and you're right. There are many cases, especially in the US, of accidents happening within the circle of a roundabout. These are almost always caused by a driver who simply doesn't understand how the circle is intended to operate! Whether or not we learn to use them is unimportant. The traffic circle has done its primary job -- to save lives -- as soon as it is installed. Roundabouts save lives by slowing everything down and moving it in the same direction. It's impossible to go much faster than 25 miles per hour through a roundabout, and a 25 mph collision is easily survivable, usually with few serious injuries. Roundabouts are even thought to save gas
Of course, we'd all be happier if everyone knew how to properly navigate a roundabout, so may I present to you my primer, "How to Use a Roundabout." Read on.