City engineers around the country are looking for ways to reduce the number of traffic accidents and resulting injuries. Increasingly, one solution that they are turning to is the roundabout. While their proponents frequently claim that roundabouts are safer than traditional intersections, the truth is actually much more complicated.

Fewer injuries but more accidents

A researcher at the University of Wisconsin-Madison found that accidents occur more often at roundabouts than at traditional intersections. On average, each roundabout saw 14 crashes over the course of the 2016 study, while traditional intersections saw an average of 11 each.

However, although fewer accidents occur at traditional intersections, the accidents tend to be more severe. Over the course of the study, none of the accidents that occurred at a roundabout resulted in death. The injuries that did result from roundabout accidents tended to be more minor compared with injuries that resulted from accidents at intersections.

Multiple possible factors

The researcher who conducted the study concluded that roundabouts reduced traffic fatalities and injuries by 40%. She hypothesized that factors other than the roundabouts themselves may be responsible for the increased number of crashes that occur there. For example, she theorized that there may be a higher volume of traffic at some of these roundabouts, increasing the possibility for accidents. Nevertheless, she also acknowledged that roundabouts involve a series of trade-offs, and they are not a panacea for traffic problems.

High costs

However, even relatively minor accidents may cost a city money. In Madison, Wisconsin, a city approximately one-tenth the size of Cleveland, the total cost of property damage, injuries and fatalities resulting from traffic accidents was $113,100,000 in 2016. Therefore, it is in the interest of taxpayers and drivers alike for city officials to conduct more research to determine what course of action may be effective at reducing the increased number of accidents that occur at roundabouts.