Are Roundabouts Safer?

Posted by Injury Lawyers of Ontario on January 29, 2016

 

Roundabouts are common throughout much of Europe and are becoming more prevalent in many Ontario communities.  In most instances, roundabouts allow traffic at busy intersections to flow more smoothly and with less stoppage.  International research shows that car accidents at roundabouts are generally fewer than at intersections with traffic lights, and when accidents do occur, they usually involve minor fender benders and less serious injury.

One issue that can be a source of collisions is that some drivers are confused about roundabout traffic rules and particularly, which lane they should drive in.  The Region of Waterloo is an Ontario jurisdiction that is aggressively increasing the number of roundabouts. In response to public confusion about roundabout rules, the Region of Waterloo sponsored an expensive educational campaign in 2012.  Waterloo Region officials claim that by reducing unnecessary stops, roundabouts improve road safety, better manage increased traffic volumes and even improve air quality.  A recent Waterloo Region report claims that where roundabouts replaced traffic light intersections, there was a 51 per cent reduction in collisions involving injuries and fatalities, but car accidents in general increased by about 35 per cent. 

One roundabout, located at Homer Watson Blvd and Block Line Rd. in Kitchener, consistently sees the greatest number of accidents and injuries.  One of the most serious collisions occurred in October of 2011 at this intersection, when a Grand River Transit bus struck a 16 year old student.  The student, Cassi Lam, suffered serious injuries including a head injury, fractured right fibula and facial injuries.  The transit bus driver was charged with careless driving in the weeks following the crash.

Seeking over $17 Million in damages, Ms. Lam’s family filed a lawsuit against the municipalities of Waterloo Region, the City of Kitchener and Grand River Transit, and also against the bus driver.  Ms. Lam’s claim alleges that her injuries are severe and permanent, and that she is suffering psychological injuries including depression and anxiety, as well as her physical injuries.  The suit includes claims for lost income for Ms. Lam’s family members who lost time from work while helping with her recovery.  The lawsuit also asserts that the roundabout is unsafe, particularly with respect to safeguards for pedestrians.  The latter is of particular concern because the Homer Watson roundabout was constructed in close vicinity to St. Mary’s High School and is crossed daily by many high school students.

Although roundabouts are more efficient at moving traffic through intersections, the issue of pedestrian safety remains problematic for this infrastructure.  The roundabout guide for Waterloo Region advises pedestrians to use body language to signal their crossing and also walk briskly across.  However, a key problem at roundabouts is that drivers are generally so preoccupied with watching for other traffic that they may not notice a pedestrian attempting to cross.  Some experts suggests that roundabouts are inappropriate choices in areas of high pedestrian use, and that traffic lights are a much safer alternative at such locations.

A Wilfrid Laurier University (WLU) study published in 2014 titled, titled Safety Effects of Roundabouts, found that during the first years of roundabout installation, the number of accidents actually increases at an intersection, but then decreases over the long term.  Further, the greater the number of lanes at a roundabout, the more accidents that occur.  This report cited studies of accidents carried out in United States and Europe which indicate that the severity and number of accidents is lessened at a roundabout versus an intersection with traffic signals. However, contrary to these findings, the WLU study of roundabout accidents in Waterloo Region between 2007 and 2010 found an 85 per cent increase in crashes.  Ela Shadpour, the author of this study hypothesized that these findings likely reflect the trend towards a higher number of accidents in the early years of roundabout use. 

 

What are the traffic laws for roundabouts?

The Ontario Ministry of Transportation defines the traffic laws for roundabouts as follows.  The most important rule is that all entering vehicles are required to yield to traffic already in the roundabout.

When your vehicle is approaching the roundabout:

  • Slow down
  • Stay to the right
  • Take the appropriate lane for your intended destination
  • Watch for pedestrians attempting to cross
  • Yield to any traffic, including cyclists who are already in the roundabout
  • Enter only when there is a safe opening in traffic

Once you have entered the roundabout:

  • Drive counter-clockwise and stay to the right of the center island
  • Do not change lanes
  • Do not pass large vehicles that may need additional room
  • Never stop inside a roundabout
  • If an emergency vehicle is approaching, exit the roundabout before pulling over

When you are exiting the roundabout:

  • Signal your right-turn
  • If you first miss your exit, go around again before exiting

Pedestrians must wait for a gap in traffic before crossing.  The same roundabout rules apply to cyclists as motor vehicles; however, novice cyclists are advised to walk across a roundabout.

From what we have learned about the potential for car accidents and personal injury on roundabouts, Ontario drivers are advised to take extra care and be prepared for other drivers who may not yet be aware of roundabout protocol.  As roundabouts become more common, our drive through roundabouts should become smoother and involve fewer collisions as drivers become more experienced and skilled in this infrastructure.

If you suffered injuries in a car accident at a roundabout or any other location, the impact of these injuries on your life can be significant and sometimes, devastating. Accident victims are often unable to return to work either temporarily or for the long-term; they often need help with housekeeping, home maintenance or attendant care; and there may be significant medical and rehabilitation expenses.  Obtaining fair compensation for losses resulting from an accident provides accident victims and their families with the financial means to aid in their recovery and pay for day-to-day living expenses.

The lawyers at Injury Lawyers of Ontario (ILO) well understand the devastating impact of serious injuries.  We provide compassionate and informed support for injured persons and their families throughout the claims process, as we fight to obtain the damages you are owed.  Call an ILO office today to find out about your legal rights and how we can help.


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