It seems some Wisconsin drivers need a refresher course on roundabouts. The state Department of Transportation is airing advertisements that tell people to “take it slow” and choose the proper lane before entering a roundabout.
With 280 roundabouts in Wisconsin, there's a good chance many motorists have used them. Whether they like them and know how to properly drive through them is another matter.
Milwaukee resident Irene McCarthy said that she has never been in crash in a roundabout, but she and her friends fret about it.
“We've discussed this issue. We have, because we travel a lot,” she said. “And here we go, there's a roundabout! And we're all going, 'Watch out, watch out!'”
The 67-year-old McCarthy said her dislike of roundabouts might be “generational.”
Another younger driver said she prefers roundabouts to traditional four-way intersections. Elizabeth Barnes, 18, of Michigan, was in Madison recently to visit her mother.
“They're extremely useful for keeping traffic flowing adequately instead of this whole stop and go. It actually saves gas and time,” she said.
Barnes seemed more informed about the topic than the average motorist, and with a little questioning, it soon became apparent why.
“My father actually is a civil engineer so I kind of grew up with roundabouts and his opinion of them,” Barnes said.
A recent study by the Wisconsin Traffic Operations and Safety Laboratory at the University of Wisconsin-Madison states that roundabouts are being installed throughout the U.S. at an “aggressive pace” and Wisconsin is no exception.
Another 40 will be constructed this year, according to Patrick Fleming, a DOT engineer. He said most roundabouts are two-lane, but Wisconsin has 11 roundabouts that are three-lane.
The UW traffic engineering study done for the DOT showed fatalities and injury crashes were 38 percent lower after roundabouts were installed. But, Fleming said fender benders have increased. So, state officials are running educational ads on how to drive through roundabouts.
“Take is slow, take it slow. Then, you need to choose the correct lane before you enter the roundabout,” the ad said.
Fleming said people aren't doing that.
“When they get to a roundabout, they lose like all common sense. 'Gee, if I'm going to turn left, I should be in the left lane,'” he said.
Another mistake drivers make is when entering the intersection. They don't yield to all oncoming cars on their left, jut the one closest to them.
“You're going to go into the roundabout and the person that's in the left lane wants to go straight and so there's crash there. That is probably the most common crash type,” he said.
This isn't the state's first public education effort on roundabouts. Ever since the initial roundabout was constructed in Brown County in 1999, DOT officials have been giving advice on how to drive them. The agency took out newspaper ads, it put roundabout instructions on the Wisconsin state map and it sent 4 million brochures to all drivers when their vehicle registration was renewed.
“What happens is people pull out the sticker and they don't read the rest,” Fleming said. “So, it's thrown out and there were a large number of people I'm sure that did see it. I got a lot of emails from it.”
The public education campaign is aimed at motorists new to roundabouts as well as those who might be too comfortable with them. One DOT official recently told state lawmakers some drivers are zipping through roundabouts at speeds higher than they should.