While Helping to Reduce Serious Traffic Accidents, Roundabouts Continully Present Challenges to Maryland Drivers

As a personal injury firm that represents automobile and trucking accident victims, I and my staff of legal professionals know the downside of being involved in a serious car, truck or motorcycle collision. The number and severity of auto accident injuries can be quite significant in our line of work. Sadly, no matter how hard we as a society work to reduce the amount of roadway wrecks, there will always be victims; history has shown that while we can always hope for an end to car crashes, we can’t eliminate them completely.

But hope springs eternal, and with improvements in car and truck safety, better roads and continuous breakthroughs in medical science, society at large will likely be safer and safer over time. This brings up a point that road safety is constantly being improved, though sometimes slower than most would like to see. We are reminded of the challenges that traffic safety engineers face on a regular basis when we run across articles covering stumbling blocks to safety.

Not long ago we read a news article that pointed out the frustration of drivers who use the dozens of roundabouts throughout our state. As Maryland and Washington, D.C., personal injury lawyers, the fact that serious injuries and certainly fatalities can be significantly reduced by the implementation of roadway roundabouts is heartening to most anyone who follows traffic safety news. The fact that some improvements can raise other concerns is part and parcel with any radical change that affects the driving public.

According to a news item, the Annapolis Road Circle in Odenton, MD, is causing more than a few headaches for drivers and county officials alike. Based on reports, the roundabout at the intersection of Sappington Station Rd. and Annapolis Rd. has engendered a mostly love-hate relationship with motorists who use it on a regular basis.

This roundabout, or “traffic circle” has apparently received some new-found notoriety over the past months since last year’s design change, which combined with high local traffic volumes is making drivers more than a little bit upset. According to the news article, large volumes of cars and trucks are heading into the roundabout from nearly every direction, causing significant backups into the connecting roadways.

The apparent culprit, at least in part, is the reported closing down of the circle’s inner lane of travel last year by the State Highway Administration (SHA). The action was prompted, according to an SHA spokesperson, because of the number of “side-swipe” accidents resulting from what agency officials say was motorists not following proper yield procedures, as well as drivers traveling at speeds higher than prudent for such a road circle.

The SHA’s action essentially reduced the circle to a single lane, which officials said had simplified the pattern for motorists, as well as slowing the traffic moving through the traffic circle. As a result, car and truck crashes decreased, according to SHA officials. However, what it also did was to increase the amount of traffic backups on each due to the longer time that it takes each vehicle to make it through the roundabout.

The author of the article conducted an albeit un-scientific test at peak and off-peak driving times. From his direct experience, it took roughly a minute to get through the roadway circle under non-peak conditions. He did another couple tests at around 5pm and then 6pm. What he found was that at 5pm the time was not much different than non-peak; however, at 6pm — arguably peak drive time for the Annapolis area — the writer found it took more than 30 seconds longer (an approximate 70 percent increase in time spent to get through to the opposite side of the roundabout.

Sadly, while these road safety devices help to reduce serious head-on car crashes and their associated injuries, many motorists still don’t know how to go through a roundabout efficiently. Accidents still occur, usually because one driver fails to yield to another car. With the number of roundabouts in use here in Maryland and throughout the rest of the country, we can only hope that people will eventually catch on.

Traffic Headache of the Week: Annapolis Road Circle, Patch.com, May 3, 2012

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