How can Drivers Avoid Roundabout Car Accidents?

Traffic circle sign

A roundabout, also known as a traffic circle, is a circular intersection that has a range of design features that improve the flow of traffic. Drivers travel around a center island in a counterclockwise direction and exit at the desired street based on whether they are turning left or right, going straight, or making a U-turn. This type of intersection is designed to keep traffic moving smoothly, reduce congestion, and prevent serious car accidents.

According to the Federal Highway Administration, roundabouts decrease intersection traffic injuries by close to 90 percent. However, for motorists who are unfamiliar with roundabouts, they can be confusing and difficult to navigate. Although roundabouts are effective at preventing serious car accidents, they may cause an increase in non-fatal car accidents involving confused or inexperienced drivers who are unfamiliar with roundabouts and how to safely navigate them.

What are the Key Design Features of a Roundabout?

Approximately 25 percent of all traffic fatalities occur at intersections. Fortunately, roundabouts reduce the risk of injuries and fatalities by up to 82 percent. Whereas the traditional intersection has 32 conflict points, a roundabout has only eight, and they are all same-direction conflict points that are typically less serious than head-on collisions. To ensure that traffic continues to flow safely, most roundabouts have the following design features:

  • Yield at entry. Motorists who are entering the roundabout must yield the right-of-way to the vehicles who are already in the traffic circle.
  • One-way travel. Traffic in a roundabout moves in one direction only, which is counterclockwise.
  • Central island. A raised central island is either painted or landscaped.
  • Slower speeds. Speed limits in roundabouts are usually limited to 25 miles per hour (mph) or less.
  • No parking. Drivers should never stop or park in a roundabout.
  • No pedestrian access to central island signage. For their safety, pedestrians should stay clear of the central island of a roundabout.

What are the Safety Benefits of Roundabouts?

Roundabouts have proven benefits over traditional intersections because they improve traffic flow and force motorists to slow down as they approach the circle. In addition, yield control allows motorists to decide when it is safe to enter the roundabout. These circular intersections provide the following safety benefits:

  • Reduced speed limits
  • Reduced risk of serious car accidents
  • No motorists running through red lights
  • No head-on collisions as a result of vehicles traveling in the same direction
  • Fewer points of impact
  • Fewer rear-end collisions and minor fender benders
  • Improved pedestrian visibility

How can Drivers Successfully Navigate a Roundabout?

Motorists who have never encountered a roundabout may find them to be confusing and overwhelming. Traditional intersections are much more common, but roundabouts are actually safer and can help prevent serious car accidents. The following tips can help drivers gain a better understanding of roundabouts, and how to stay safe when driving through them:

  • Drivers must yield to motorists who are already in the roundabout, including those in the outside lanes who may still exit the roundabout. Traffic moves in a counterclockwise direction, so drivers must always look to their left to check for oncoming vehicles.
  • Motorists should check all signs and road markings before entering the roundabout.
  • Drivers should reduce their speed as they approach a roundabout, while driving in a roundabout, and when exiting. The speed limit in a roundabout is usually 25 mph.
  • Drivers must always yield to pedestrians. As with traditional intersections, roundabouts have pedestrian crosswalks. When entering or exiting a roundabout, drivers need to yield to pedestrians who are crossing the street.
  • It is important not to pass other vehicles while in a roundabout. This can cause unsafe merging, cutting other drivers off, and aggressive driving behavior from other motorists. Drivers should stay in their lane until they exit the roundabout.

What are the Most Common Roundabout Errors?

Even though roundabouts decrease traffic accidents by close to 90 percent, when drivers are confused, distracted, or driving recklessly, accidents can happen. The following are the most common errors that motorists make that can increase the risk of a serious car accident:

  • Ignoring yields. Roundabouts have carefully placed yield signs at every location where vehicles enter. The cars that are already in the circle have the right of way. Ignoring posted yield signs, failing to give other cars the right of way, or attempting to get ahead of other cars by speeding up can be dangerous and cause serious car accidents.
  • Hitting the brakes while in the roundabout. Roundabouts are designed to keep traffic moving smoothly and safely. If a driver who is in the circle slams on the brakes because they missed the exit, it can cause a rear-end accident. It is common for drivers who are unfamiliar with roundabouts to miss their exit. However, rather than panic and hit the brakes, motorists should simply continue around the circle again and take the correct exit.
  • Mid-circle lane changes. Roundabouts are meant to limit the need for motorists to change lanes. The lanes clearly indicate where vehicles should enter and exit, so making mid-circle lane changes should be unnecessary. If a motorist enters the roundabout in the wrong lane, he or she will need to follow it through, either by taking the wrong exit and turning around, or continuing around the circle and taking the correct exit.

Who is Liable for a Roundabout Accident?

Although roundabouts are meant to prevent car accidents by improving the flow of traffic, accidents in these traffic circles can still happen. Unusually, these accidents involve drivers who do not know how to navigate a roundabout properly, or who do not understand who has the right of way. Other accidents can occur if a motorist approaches the roundabout too fast, particularly if the road is slippery because of rain, snow, or black ice. The driver can easily lose control of the vehicle and hit another car. If there are motorcyclists or pedestrians in the vicinity, a roundabout accident can cause serious injuries.

When an accident occurs, both motorists involved may wonder who is at-fault for causing the collision. In some cases, it may be obvious, particularly if one of the motorists clearly failed to yield the right of way. Other times, determining fault may be less obvious. After any car accident, it is essential that police be called to the scene. The police officer will speak to both motorists involved and fill out a police report, which includes detailed information about the accident. The motorists should also take pictures of the accident scene, including any skid marks, property damage, and injuries that were caused by the collision. They should also gather statements from witnesses who may be able to provide important information about who caused the accident.

Motorists involved in roundabout accidents should consider the following questions when proceeding with an accident claim:

  • Who had the right of way? If the driver who was hit had the right of way at the time of the accident, it is likely that the other driver will be considered at-fault for the collision. Motorists must stop before entering a roundabout and wait until they can safely enter the circle. Any driver who cuts off another motorist to rush around the circle will likely be held liable for the accident.
  • Was the accident a rear-end collision? Rear-end collisions are almost always the fault of the person who hit the back of another car. This is also true in a roundabout. Following distances are shorter, and vehicles are only a few feet away from each other. Therefore, if a following vehicle is tailgating or speeding, it will not be able to slow down or stop in time to avoid hitting the car it is following, particularly if that vehicle slows down or stops suddenly.
  • Was the other motorist changing lanes? If a roundabout has multiple lanes, drivers should know which lane they should be using, and where they should enter and exit the circle. If they realize that they are in the wrong lane and try to swerve into the correct lane, it can cause a collision. Depending on the number of vehicles in the roundabout and the nature of the accident, this can cause accidents ranging from minor fender benders to multi-vehicle collisions. The driver who changed lanes would likely be held liable for the accident.

Baltimore Car Wreck Lawyers at LeViness, Tolzman & Hamilton Advocate for Victims of Roundabout Accidents

If you or someone you know was injured in a roundabout car accident, it is in your best interest to contact the Baltimore car wreck lawyers at LeViness, Tolzman & Hamilton at your earliest convenience. Our experienced and dedicated legal team will thoroughly review the details of the accident and hold the negligent party liable for your injuries. We will address all your questions and concerns and walk you through every step of the claims process. To schedule a free consultation, call us today at 800-547-4LAW (4529) or contact us online.

Our offices are conveniently located in BaltimoreColumbiaGlen Burnie, and Prince George’s County, where we represent victims throughout Maryland, including those in Anne Arundel CountyCarroll CountyHarford CountyHoward CountyMontgomery CountyPrince George’s CountyQueen Anne’s CountyMaryland’s Western CountiesSouthern Maryland and the Eastern Shore, as well as the communities of CatonsvilleEssexHalethorpeMiddle RiverRosedale, Gwynn OakBrooklandvilleDundalkPikesvilleParkvilleNottinghamWindsor MillLuthervilleTimoniumSparrows PointRidgewood, and Elkridge.