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When roundabouts cause accidents instead of preventing them

Accident reconstructionist and former police officer weighs in on one roundabout that accounted for the most automobile accidents in Michigan in 2014

We recently wrote about the intersection that had the most car accidents in Michigan in 2014, according to data from the Michigan State Police. The rather dubious winner for highest number of crashes is South State and Ellsworth Roads in Ann Arbor near Pittsfield Township. The culprit behind the huge spike in car accidents at that location is a new roundabout.

Our own attorneys received a record number of comments (via Facebook and our blog post) from concerned Ann Arbor residents, most of who were frustrated with the dangers posed by people who are unfamiliar with how to properly navigate roundabouts.

Today I want to share a helpful comment we received from one of our readers. Eric Jensen of Milan, Michigan is a former professional accident reconstructionist and Michigan State Police officer. He has a unique perspective on roundabout car accidents and posed the possibility that the Ann Arbor location at South State and Ellsworth might need to be revisited by traffic engineers:

“I was a professional Traffic Accident Reconstructionist for 10 years after leaving the Michigan State Police, and then the Ann Arbor Police. I agree with Ann Arbor Lt. Bush that few Michiganders are experienced with roundabouts. That is a major reason. Another reason that jumps out at me is due to the fact that there was another intersection there previously. Drivers that were familiar with the previous intersection will almost always have more problems than drivers who are new to the intersection, or the intersection is new or just constructed. This is precisely why you will see signs preceding a new stop sign where driver’s are programmed to drive through without stopping. After some time, the “Stop Ahead” can normally be taken down.

Roundabouts are particularly bothersome in virtually every state. A new roundabout is understandably more dangerous. One critical reason is that drivers are proceeding to the intersection and are not required to stop. There is simply a lot for drivers to “read.” There are signs showing what lane you should enter to get to your “exit.” Then you are trying to obey symbols on the road surface. And then we mix in numerous cars entering, exiting, changing lanes, timing their entry, etc., ad nauseum.

I don’t know if it was done, but I would have published a diagram of the roundabout in the local papers. Studying the intersection, in advance, would be priceless. One can trace their route through the roundabout knowing what lane to be in preceding, what lane to enter, and where to exit. A 5 MPH speed limit would decrease accidents and well as decreasing the severity of any that do occur. After a learning curve of say, a few months, the speed limit within the roundabout can be increased.

There are many other actions that can be taken, up to, and including re-engineering the intersection if necessary. S. State and Ellsworth might be a candidate. If possible, a larger circumference gives drivers more time to make decisions. Certainly topography and right-of-way limit the available area for construction.

Lastly, the ugly truth is that sometimes good intersections have been tweaked several times, at the expense of many accidents that provide data to re-engineer the intersection. No engineer can anticipate everything although they do an excellent job for the vast majority of intersections. But, sometimes you have to start with good accident data and work backward while looking at commonalities in the collisions. Interviewing drivers is valuable even when all they can do is tell the officer where they were overwhelmed, or confused, or anxious. Eventually, we will end up with a safe intersection which allows good flow in that very busy area.”

You also may visit our Michigan Dangerous Intersections page for a complete list of intersection car crashes (including roundabouts) that can be searched by any Michigan city or county, and our list of Michigan’s 2016 Top 20 Most Dangerous Intersections.

Related information:

How to safely drive a roundabout

This entry was tagged Tags: No-Fault Insurance Blog, roundabout car accident
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