ASSIGNMENT 13: Roundabout Roundup

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(WEAU) -- Do you remember the first time you drove around a roundabout? Did it remind you of "National Lampoon's European Vacation?"

What started in Europe has made its way to the United States and is now becoming commonplace on highways near you.

"The circle became smaller and the traffic entering the circle was required to yield," said Greg Helgeson, a Traffic Safety Engineer with the Wisconsin Department of Transportation.

Part of Helgeson's job is making intersections safer.

"When we've identified an intersection that has a safety problem or congestion problem, we're gonna look at all the alternatives available to treat that problem," he said.

One of those solutions has been roundabouts. Their biggest draw: cutting crashes, saving lives.

"There are fewer conflict points in a roundabout because you just make right turns, there are no left turns or no direct crossing movements," he said.

A study of 24 roundabouts done by the Wisconsin Traffic Safety and Operations Lab in Madison found roundabouts reduced fatal and injury crashes by 52% and all crashes by 9%.

"And that's pretty significant in that type of crash reduction severity," Helgeson added.

But getting everybody on board is not always easy; opinions about roundabouts go full circle.

"I like them, they seem fast, efficient, and safe," said John Ford.

"I think they could be unsafe especially for people not familiar with the area," said Jessica Kelly.

The key: driver education and awareness.

He says not switching lanes in the roundabout is one of the keys to preventing crashes. And "crash prevention" is one thing the Wisconsin State Patrol likes to see.

"It's really been a blessing and all around in terms of safety and enforcement for us," said Captain Jeffrey Frenette.

The Eau Claire State Patrol Headquarters sits next to the roundabout on Highway 53. But it is the intersection at County Highway S and Highway 124 north of Chippewa Falls where Frenette says there has been a big improvement since the roundabout went in.

"We had several fatalities up there and were always guaranteed crashes through the summer with tourist traffic," he said.

Clyde Goettl has noticed a change, too.

His collision center neighbors the roundabout and says he has seen a big improvement since it used to be a traditional intersection.

"People used to get hurt bad there bad not anymore," he said.

Some confusion and backups at first, but he says not the roundabout flows fine.

It is the typical pattern Helgeson sees, too.

There is a lot of apprehension from the local people because it's a major change from how they are used to navigating intersections, but when you think about the reduction in conflict points that occur when you use a roundabout, it's pretty significant," he added.

For more information about roundabouts,click here.

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