Ronan O'Beirne
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Improving Highway Safety with Roundabouts | Canadian Insurance

Improving Highway Safety with Roundabouts

Sometimes, it's OK to drive in circles

Your correspondent is quickly discovering that it’s hard to get your head out of insurance—even on vacation. Trying to escape another Canadian fall, I flew off to Ireland to see some long-lost family and maybe—maybe—enjoy a Guinness or two. We took a train down to Bray, about an hour south of Dublin, to take in some traditional Irish music.

The Harbour Bar was packed by the time we got there, so my uncle and I and our respective partners shared a table with two locals. My uncle asked me what I was up to these days, and I gave him a brief answer over the din of the crowd: I work at a Canadian insurance magazine, been there a few months, it’s going well, et cetera. We left it at that and moved on to other things (what those things were, exactly, is a little cloudy).

About a half-hour later, one of the kind people whose table we had expropriated said to me, “You said you work at a Canadian insurance magazine—is that Top Broker?”

Once I was sure I had, in fact, gone on vacation and wasn’t daydreaming at my desk, I discovered I was sitting across from a reader—a financial planner from County Kildare. He said he reads a Canadian trade magazine because he’s always on the lookout for solutions from afar for issues closer to home: What are they doing over there that we could do over here?

I was too busy seeing family, friends and sights to learn much about the Irish insurance industry. But, when I was back in Toronto, I did find something to copy from the Irish: their roads.

In a recent report on distracted driving, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety noted that things like red light cameras and roundabouts “appear to get drivers to slow down and pay more attention to surrounding traffic.” Studies have found that intersections converted from traffic lights to roundabouts have seen a 35 to 47 percent reduction in crash frequency, and a 72 to 80 percent reduction in injury crashes.

Ireland’s roads are littered with roundabouts and, by sheer coincidence, it has some of the lowest road accident rates in the world. The country had 4.7 accidents per 100,000 people in 2010; the U.K., another roundabout haven, had 3.7. Canada is by no means a very dangerous country to drive in—our rate is 6.8—but we lag behind the British Isles, who in turn lag behind Scandinavia and a few other areas.

It would be a ridiculous leap to suggest that simply installing roundabouts would reduce the crash rate on Canada’s roads. They’re no use unless they’re properly designed and ingrained in the culture; Halifax’s notorious Armdale Rotary caused many headaches, primarily because its rules may as well have been written in Irish. Studying a newly installed two-lane roundabout in Bellingham, Wash., the IIHS found that many drivers were still confused about how to navigate the traffic circle after a year. Anne McCartt, the institute’s senior vice-president for research, said, “Two-lane roundabouts are inherently more complicated than single-lane roundabouts, so extra care is needed to ensure that the rules for navigating the roundabout are communicated.”

Many provinces and municipalities have good, thorough Q&As online to help drivers navigate roundabouts, but the country isn’t quite there yet. Until there’s a larger cultural shift, Canada’s drivers are just waiting for the light to change.

Copyright 2014 Rogers Publishing Ltd. This article first appeared in the November 2014 edition of Canadian Insurance Top Broker magazine