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Are New York's traffic roundabouts causing more accidents than they are preventing?

Over the years, public safety officials have devised a variety of methods to reduce the number of traffic violations and serious accidents caused by both poor road design and human error. One of these methods, the roundabout, was imported straight from Europe and touted as a guaranteed way to reduce traffic tickets/accidents.

As it turns out, these roundabouts may not be as effective as public safety officials initially thought.

According to data from the Albany Times Union, the number of car crashes has actually increased at 15 out of the 20 traffic roundabouts built in upstate New York in place of controlled intersections.

In addition, the Times Union found that the number of crashes were far higher at two-lane roundabouts and that the accident rate was also higher at single-lane roundabouts built by counties or towns (not the state).

"We have found that single-lane roundabouts definitely reduce accidents," said Mark Kennedy, a traffic and safety director for the state Department of Transportation (DOT). "With multi-lane roundabouts, some are better, some are worse."

To illustrate the depth of the problem, consider that after one roundabout was installed at an intersection in Malta, the accident rate jumped from only 7.8 crashes a year (back when it was a controlled intersection) to 45.7 a year.

Why then are roundabouts - especially multiple-lane roundabouts - causing so many accidents?

According to state DOT officials, aggressive drivers failing to yield the right of way to those in the roundabout and a general lack of understanding as to how roundabouts work are the primary causes of the high accident rate.

In order to remedy this problem, officials are planning to install more effective lane markings and signage, including flashing message boards informing drivers of their speeds and the need to yield.

State officials feel that this step plus additional vigilance on the part of drivers can go a long way toward fixing the problem.

"People do need to watch the pavement markings, watch the signs and be cognizant of their speed," said DOT spokesperson Carol Breen. "People need to be very cognizant about yielding. If we can get at that driving behavior, we can bring these accidents down."

It is worth noting that accidents at roundabouts are usually far less severe than those at light-controlled intersections. Typically, cars are traveling at far lower speeds and rather than T-bone or head-on collisions, drivers in roundabouts are involved in rear-end accidents or sideswipe accidents.

Stay tuned for further developments on this story from our New York traffic law blog ...

If you have been issued a traffic violation, fight to keep your driving privileges and your insurance premiums as low as possible. Consider contacting an attorney who understands New York's confusing legal system, and who can help you evaluate your options and make the right decisions.

This post was provided for informational purposes only and is not to be construed as legal advice.

Related Resources:

Crashes increase at New York State's roundabouts (Insurance Journal)

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