You might not be surprised to know that America has one of the highest vehicle to person ratios in the world. After all, having a car is part of the stereotypical American experience and is often considered key to the idea of freedom. Having a car is actually a very American thing. It’s become part of our national identity. But American’s often take for granted how easy it is to earn the privilege to operate a motor vehicle in the United States; particularly when you consider other countries and their age requirements for drivers licenses, their vehicle to person ratios, and the amount of effort it requires to pass whatever examination process is in place for that country. The American system for teaching and testing driving proficiency is generally considered to only require the absolute basic abilities to pass. In many cities driving tests don’t include topics such as parallel parking, how to behave around large vehicles, driving on a highway, or using roundabouts.
Roundabouts are an interesting subject regarding driver testing and preparation. In the United States, there are significantly less roundabouts than most other developed nations. And so, when they are not required in a driving test, and often excluded from written tests, when an American driver encounters one they are woefully unprepared. And the number of roundabouts in America is just in the right zone that it is unlikely that one will be close enough to a testing location, but also that almost every driver will have to deal with them. And while American drivers are already horribly unprepared to drive when they are issued their licenses, roundabouts are one of the worse things to be unprepared for. Because roundabouts are considered intersections, and, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, about 40% of all car accidents occur at intersections. That number also increases to roughly 50% when looking only at accidents which result in injury or a fatality.
Are roundabouts the reason that intersections are so dangerous, then? You might think so, given the information presented already. American’s do test for traffic light intersections, so they should feasibly be prepared for them, but the overwhelming majority of intersection accidents occur at lighted intersections and not roundabouts. In fact, roundabouts are statistically safer by almost every metric. Roundabouts reduce injury causing and fatal collisions by up to 80%, high speed collisions are almost nonexistent, and T-bone and head-on collisions are much less likely to occur.
So if roundabouts are so much safer than normal intersections, shouldn’t American’s like them? Logically, they should. But there is still a large amount of resistance against their construction and use in the US. And it isn’t just a matter of there being too few in place for Americans to get used to them. In fact, most Americans have already formed opinions on roundabouts without realizing it, as they have consumed media which is traditionally distrusting of them (usually for comedic effect) or are familiar with similar but less efficient intersection designs. More often than not, it is the prejudice of change resistant individuals that causes resistance to the idea of roundabouts. American’s seem to just prefer traffic lights and the false sense of security they give. Being told how to behave is a very safe feeling, even if that sense of safety is a false one, as a simple lack of awareness can cause a terrible collision at a red light. It’s a hard pill to swallow, and most people don’t like to admit that they take comfort in following directions, but the lack of directions given at a roundabout can make them scary. However, the benefits still greatly outweigh the risks.
Roundabouts eliminate left hand turns, reduce traffic congestion, make collisions much less likely and less dangerous, and reduce costs of construction and maintenance of the intersection. So the next time you find yourself driving up to an intersection, all you need to remember is that you slow down and yield to a vehicle already on the roundabout. It’s simple and it makes for a safer trip, so you don’t have to worry as much about being in an accident that wasn’t your fault.
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