St. George Police set the record straight on how to keep you and others safe in roundabouts

FEATURE — Though those who don’t understand how to use them might say otherwise, roundabouts are designed to help smooth traffic flow and reduce the number of severe crashes on St. George’s roadways.

Roundabout at Tabernacle Street and Main Street, St. George, Utah, July 17, 2019 | Photo by Andrew Pinckney, St. George News

The circular intersection, first envisioned in the 1790s in the original layout of Washington, D.C., by architect Pierre L’Enfant, has long been part of transportation design.

American businessman William Phelps Eno designed what is considered the first roundabout to be employed in the automobile age, New York City’s Columbus Circle, in an effort to reduce the number of problems that can occur at an intersection between vehicles and pedestrians.

St. George has eight roundabouts, with many smaller versions in places like parking lots and housing developments. Though confusing to some drivers, St. George Police officer Andy Mickelson told St. George News they are proven to be safe and a benefit to traffic flow. He cautioned, however, only if used correctly.

Compared to a standard two-way stop with signs, roundabouts are drastically safer and reduce the number of severe crashes by 82%, according to the Federal Highway Administration.

The Utah Department of Transportation’s Driver Handbook states roundabouts have only “12 potential points of conflict compared to 56 points of conflict at a regular 4-leg intersection” and are consequently safer. It reads signs will always warn drivers that a roundabout is ahead and offers a few, simple things they should keep in mind:

  • Vehicles travel counterclockwise. Entering traffic yields the right-of-way to traffic and pedestrians in the circle already.
  • Signal before entering and exiting the roundabout for at least two seconds
  • Pay attention and slow down. The top speed on most roundabouts is 15-25 mph.

Mickelson said the biggest problem is that drivers don’t follow the signs, explaining that people need to plan ahead.

“They don’t decide beforehand where they need to go and then follow the path of least resistance,” he said. “Everybody’s got everything on their minds as they drive and they don’t preplan to get where they want to be.”

Art at Main Street roundabout, St. George, Utah, July 17, 2019 | Photo by Andrew Pinckney, St. George News

Interstate 15’s Exit 4 at Brigham Road is the busiest roundabout in town and a major cause of concern for drivers in particular. It has a two-lane roundabout and a single-lane roundabout, and there are specific ways to enter and exit.

When asked if tourists and new residents were the cause of many of the problems in that particular roundabout, Mickelson said probably not and that tourists may actually have a better grasp on how to use them.

“We have people who live in Bloomington who don’t understand that roundabout, and they drive it everyday,” Mickelson said, adding that if you’re going into one that has multiple lanes, pick the lane you need to be in ahead of time, be patient, read the signs and follow the flow of traffic to get where you want to be.

The lanes are specifically designed to help flow, and as drivers approach the roundabout, the signs indicate which roadway and which lane they are meant to be in.

It is important that drivers make sure they are giving appropriate notice to others of the direction they want to travel, because, Mickelson said, if people aren’t signaling their movements then the other drivers on the roadway don’t know what their intent is. He said these are some of the reasons for Exit 4’s distinction as the Police Department’s busiest roundabout for accidents.

Drivers not paying attention to their surroundings while behind the wheel is another issue Mickeson said he sees, adding that as long as you stay aware of what is happening in the roundabout, “then you’re going to be able to travel through it safely.”

If you are driving unaware or impatient and you’re not being focused on the task, then of course it’s going to cause a problem. Definitely being aware, focused and patient are probably some of the most important things about driving. Focus on driving. Don’t get distracted by anything else if the operator of a motor vehicle because it only takes a split second of distraction to cause a crash.

More information about these circular intersections and the rules and regulations of Utah’s roadways can be found in the Utah Driver Handbook.

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Copyright St. George News, LLC, 2019, all rights reserved.

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