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Roundabouts Coordinate Traffic for the Common Good

If you are the rare American who likes roundabouts, you have the British to thank. In 1966, they figured out what was going wrong. According to the original design of traffic circles, entering cars had the right-of-way, so drivers charged in at high speed without paying attention to vehicles already circling. Once inside, they had to both watch for their exit and avoid incoming drivers. If traffic was heavy, the entire circle filled up with cars and came to a standstill. The British realized they needed to reverse the right-of-way, giving priority to the cars inside the intersection. Entering vehicles then had to pause and make sure there was space for them.

Circulating drivers could focus on exiting safely rather than dodging incoming cars. Once the correct right-of-way was established, capacity went up by 10 percent and crashes went down by almost half. Americans still took a lot of convincing. We didn’t build any more roundabouts until 1990.

Possible Preaching Angle:

The story of the traffic circle is an example of coordination for the greater good of everyone. The drivers inside the circle aren’t more important than those outside it, but there has to be a prioritized sequence in order for everyone to get where they’re going. Everyone benefits, even though incoming cars may have to slow down momentarily to find a gap. The difference between an efficient driving experience and total gridlock is the application of appropriate right-of-way rules.

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