The Wheel of Misfortune
It was 9 AM on a Monday morning when the 58 year-old driver of a 2000 Freightliner pulling doubles approached the westbound Business U.S. 10 roundabout, near Midland, Michigan.
The driver didn’t slow enough before the roundabout. Losing control, he flipped the tractor and lead trailer upside down. His foot was pinned under the dash, but fortunately he was freed by the Midland Fire Department with only minor injuries.
The Next Big Thing
Roundabouts are one of the latest ‘big things’ in road design. Roundabouts are promoted by the DOT as an overall safer means to connect traffic flows by eliminating left turns and the need to make stops.
Safer does not mean accident free. Some of the insurance carriers I work with are experiencing some large claims involving roundabouts, and motor carriers are advised to develop new driver training objectives for negotiating roundabouts.
What is a Roundabout?
A roundabout consists of a central island, usually surrounded by an apron (truck apron), and one to two lane carriageway (circulatory roadway). The spokes or lanes of the carriageway (the legs) are divided by splitter islands.
- Traffic travels counterclockwise around the center island.
- Roundabouts come in all shapes and sizes, not only circular. Some are oval-shaped, teardrop-shaped, peanut-shaped, and dogbone-shaped.
- Some have as few as three legs. Others as many as six.
- Vehicles entering the roundabout need to yield the right of way to traffic already circulating, and to pedestrians, and bicyclists.
- Traffic already inside the carriageway or circulatory roadway will always keep moving in the roundabout. This traffic has the right-of-way.
While there are now over two-dozen roundabouts in the Kansas City area alone, it seems like very few drivers know how to use them properly. Phillip B. Grubaugh, Esq.
Drivers of commercial motor vehicles (CMVs) need basic training on roundabouts. The duration, scope of this training will depend on their area of service and the types of roundabouts they will encounter.
Roundabouts have been used for years in the UK and Europe. Studies have found articulated vehicles are more prone to over turning in roundabouts.
Trucks and CMVs overturn for two main reasons: the vehicle is going too fast or the driver turns too quickly, usually resulting in loss of control.
While roundabouts can be safer, drivers need to drive safer as vehicles are close together and events can happen quickly in a roundabout.
Inadequate surveillance is one of the top 10 factors in truck crashes, according to the DOT. Drivers miss cues or are distracted and are not able to properly respond. Generally, roundabouts or traffic circles will have a sign or two before their placement showing its design or type. The U.S. DOT recommends that this signage be modified to reflect the number and alignment of approaches. Other signs warn drivers to stay right, advise of an appropriate speed, and to yield the right of way.
Traveling too fast for conditions is another of the top 10 factors is truck crashes. A key characteristic of the roundabout is a slower than normal speed, usually 20 miles per hour or lower. Sometimes the posted speed may be in the 30 to 35 MPH range. But because the roundabout is, well, round or circular by definition, CMV drivers need to drive 10 miles per hour under that speed.
CMV drivers in a roundabout also need to be mindful of:
- Following too close
- Familiarity with the roadway
- Illegal maneuvers (other vehicles suddenly stopping or swerving)
- Yielding to pedestrians and bicyclists
- Other vehicles next to them or attempting to pass
I would further recommend motor carriers incorporate a roundabout on the driver’s road test.
Love them or hate them, roundabouts are a fact of modern driving and we might as well get used to them . . .
Thank you for reading this.