America’s Most Dangerous Intersections — the Need for More, Better-Designed Roundabouts, plus Accurate Info for Drivers!

In an article published in January 2018, Business Insider listed the most dangerous intersection in every state in the USA, and in each case there was an accompanying photograph, although not always from a suitable angle or elevation.

From what can be seen in the photographs, many of the intersections would benefit tremendously from the installation of a roundabout.  Roundabouts don’t necessarily reduce the overall number of collisions — indeed when first installed a roundabout may see an increase in the number of minor collisions while people get used to the new type of intersection — but the number of serious collisions, involving injuries and deaths, will drop dramatically as long as the roundabout is well-designed, and just as importantly, as long as the drivers in that state are being taught the best way to drive into, around and out of roundabouts.  However, while the first of these points is increasingly being met (although not so in the first photograph shown below), the second — the education aspect — is deliberately and unforgivably being rejected by the FHWA, and as a result, all state-level DOTs that we know of.

A photograph from above of a roundabout intersection in West Bloomfield Township, Michigan.
This intersection in West Bloomfield Township is the most dangerous in Michigan and is logically therefore one of the most dangerous in the USA. Given that it is already a roundabout, this is particularly disappointing because roundabouts are the safest form of intersection. The conclusion must therefore be that one or more things are wrong with this particular roundabout (see the article text, below) and perhaps with other relevant factors in Michigan in general. (Photo: Google Maps)

Back in 2010, at a conference in Washington, DC, about the then-imminent commencement of the international ‘Decade of Action for Road Safety, 2011-2020’, I had the good fortune to meet the very likable Joe Toole, who was then the head of the Federal Highway Administration [FHWA], one of the two executive divisions of the USDOT.

Mr. Toole had just heard me address the conference about the fact that while America was starting to see the introduction of some well-designed roundabouts in some of the states, it was already clear that the states in question were not educating drivers on how best to drive around those roundabouts, and that this was causing confusion, a heightened potential for collisions, and an entirely unnecessary fear or mistrust of roundabouts.

After some discussion between us, Mr. Toole very kindly asked me if I would assist with the introduction of the relevant best-practices into the FHWA and thus, by definition, into all 50 states. I gladly agreed and said that as it was such an important safety issue I would happily do so for free, with no consultancy fee. Joe did, however, make it clear that he was shortly about to retire and that he would give my details to two relevant individuals who were handling the issue of roundabouts.

Pedestrians walking on a roundabout rather on the crosswalk and sidewalk nearby.
It is not just drivers who need better education about safety at roundabouts. The lady in the foreground is walking along the yield line and ignoring the red-coloured crosswalk that is just visible at the foot of the photograph, and the pedestrians in the background are actually walking on the roadway and ignoring the adjacent sidewalk. To prevent injuries, this type of unthinking behavior needs at least discouragement and possibly even law enforcement from the police. (Copyright image.)

The two high-ranking gentlemen from the FHWA later e-mailed me and I sent them some written guidelines which I had drawn up to fit with the existing systems and driving culture in the USA. Sometime after that, however, I was put in contact with a woman from the FHWA who very bluntly, and without any forewarning, told me that my work was not relevant and would not be used! Her dogmatic attitude to this important issue has undoubtedly done considerable harm to American people.

Sadly, that is still the status quo now, some eight years later. The American public has been disastrously let down, and the failure to educate drivers about best practise techniques in many aspects of driver safety is undoubtedly and undeniably one of the key factors in why the USA has — for at least 30 years — repeatedly been at the bottom of a list of ~30 OECD member-nations in terms of the rate of road deaths each year, with a rate that is up to four times worse than that in the leading nations of Sweden, Britain and now Norway. In turn, if the USA could match the leading rates — and there is actually no good reason why it cannot — around 27,000 American lives would be saved each year and a vastly higher number of people would either have less serious injuries than at present or escape with no injuries at all.

A photograph of a 'rotary' in Massachusetts, on which -- ridiculously -- there are no destination signs until a driver is part way around. This harms rather than helps safety.
This ‘rotary’ — an inadequate form of roundabout, in this case in Massachusetts — doesn’t have any ‘map’ or layout sign on the approach and drivers who are strangers to the area can’t see where their exit from the roundabout is until they are close enough to read those signs that are half-way around it (by which stage it is already far too late for maximum safety). Copyright image.

‘Modern roundabouts,’ as they are correctly known, were invented in Britain in the 1960s, almost half-a-century prior to the conference we were attending, and in that lengthy period of time a set of clear best-practices was developed for the best way to use roundabouts for maximum safety as well as for best traffic flow.

Despite some of my comments above, however, it must also be stressed that there are plenty inadequate or downright bad roundabouts in the USA, too, and frankly these have served only to reinforce drivers’ dislike of an important safety feature.

An aerial view of a roundabout at Latham, NY.
The intersection of Route 9 with Route 2 (above it), at Latham, NY. A clear fault with this roundabout is that the roads joining it — especially from Route 2 — are too straight, thus permitting vehicles to be going too fast when they join, creating a significant collision risk if the drivers also fail to yield correctly. (Copyright image.)

So, back to the most dangerous intersections in each state of the USA, but let me first stress that I don’t pretend to be a road engineer.  However, as a traffic patrol police officer I did attend and investigate a large number of serious crashes which gave me good insight into relevant issues.

To me, the roundabout in Michigan, in the top photograph above, appears to facilitate traffic joining it from all four directions at a speed which could be too high for safety.  Add to this the fact that map/layout signs are often, reprehensibly not used at America’s roundabouts, thus leaving drivers confused and potentially in the wrong lane, plus the fact that drivers have not been taught that two different directional signals are often needed when circumnavigating a roundabout and that they have also not accurately been taught about which vehicles they must yield to, and the seed for relatively high-speed collisions has been sown.  To know the answers for certain, however, one would need detailed records of all the crashes so that trends could be established.

Of the ‘most dangerous intersections’ in the other 49 states plus DC, I would suggest that from the photographs alone, it seems likely that replacing the existing intersections with roundabouts would help in the locations shown for:  Alabama, Alaska, Arkansas, Arizona, California*, Colorado, the section in the top right-hand corner of the photo for Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Iowa, possibly at the two almost crossroads-style sub-intersections shown on the Idaho photo, Illinois, possibly Indiana, Kansas (probably needing realignment of the off- and on-ramps), Kentucky*, Louisiana*, Massachusetts (again, probably needing realignment of the off- and on-ramps), Maryland, Maine, Minnesota, Mississippi (again, potentially the two narrow aspect points of the diamond, not the actual highway), Montana, Nebraska, Nevada*, New Hampshire*, New Jersey*, New Mexico*, New York*, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon? (the photo must almost certainly show the wrong part of the intersection), Pennsylvania*, Rhode Island? (see Oregon comment, above), South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee*, Texas*, Utah? (see Oregon comment, above), Virginia, Vermont*,  Washington DC*, Washington State*, Wisconsin*, West Virginia, Wyoming.

The eagle-eyed, amongst our readers, will have spotted that only one state is missing.  From what I can see, the ‘most dangerous’ intersection in Missouri simply needs a redesign to accommodate traffic signals.  (But given its reputation, why wasn’t this done years ago?)

Of the states listed above, those marked with an asterisk [*] would undoubtedly benefit from a roundabout but it appears that surrounding buildings or structures might prevent such.

So has the USA got enough roundabouts?  No…. nowhere near enough!  Roundabouts typically cut the number of deaths — compared to those at the earlier intersections — by around 90 percent, as well as major reductions in injuries, so the safety gain is massive.

And for those of you worried about being delayed if more roundabouts are built, fear not.  If roundabouts are well designed, they actually speed up the flow of traffic when compared to the alternative of traffic lights, and surely we all think that is good news on busy roads!

See a photograph of ‘the most dangerous intersection’ in every U.S. state, here.

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Author: EddieWren

Eddie Wren is the CEO and Chief Instructor at Advanced Drivers of North America. His driver safety background is given at: http://www.advanceddrivers.com/ceochief-instructors-resumecvbio/

4 thoughts on “America’s Most Dangerous Intersections — the Need for More, Better-Designed Roundabouts, plus Accurate Info for Drivers!”

  1. There seems to be a reluctance among Americans to both thinking their way through traffic as well as communicating…turn signals are seldom used where I winter in Florida. Both of these attributes are necessary to manoeuvre wrt roundabouts. They seem to much prefer being told what to do by traffic lights. This is exacerbated by their addiction to cell phones. They are anathema to anything that might require them to put down their phones.

  2. I echo the remarks about Florida. The unfortunate truth is that most of the offenders are originally from other areas of the country, but they have apparently found it less troublesome to themselves not to use their turn signals. Here in Florida too many are thinking only about themselves: what?? there are other drivers/bikes/pedestrians on the road? I thought I was all alone out here……

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