Of Roundabouts and Red lights

The number of roundabouts in the United States is growing, despite, apparently, a vehement dislike of them by many Americans.

The arguments in their favor explain their increased use: primarily safety and efficiency of movement as compared to a traditional four-way intersection.

A segment on NPR last month described the main objections as a feeling of being less-safe, this primarily because the *when* to go is dependent on each driver, and varying levels of insecurity will make some drivers more hesitant to enter the circle.

The author in this segment discussing traffic argued that this hesitancy was exactly what made roundabouts more safe than traditional intersections, as everyone has to pay more attention.

A traffic light is nice because we can just go when we’re told.  If we get creamed we know it was the other guy’s fault and everybody agrees with us.  If we get creamed on a roundabout (fairly rare as speeds and angles all inhibit the possibility) it’s invariably our own fault.  And that’s harder to live with.


The topics of vaccinations and antibiotics (among others) have become hot topics of debate among modern mothers.  Some decry these artificial interventions as unnecessary and setting their children up for greater problems down the road.

Other mothers cling to them as “life-savers” in both the literal and hyperbolic meanings of the phrase.

Regardless of their leanings, most parents bemoan the sometimes arbitrary guidelines and murky information swirling about these topics, and regret together the lack of consensus.

I suggest that here is a classic application of the roundabout versus stop-light mentality.

Life would be so much simpler if we could just feel safe to trust the green light, but that view of reality assumes that the rest of life will flow according to best-case-scenario.

I do use both debatable examples given here, but I try to use them thoughtfully: antibotics under advisement after waiting, and some vaccinations later than scheduled because my children were under the curve for weight.

I’m one of those “life-saver” moms who has seen too many benefits outweighing the risks, but I have met moms from the other side, and their experiences are no less valid.  This is why we all need to learn to think for ourselves.

I believe some things– maybe most things, though we get tired of the work– are better when they require individual weighing of each situation.  Bad choices (in my experience) are regretted less if they were well-reasoned and seemed sensible ahead of time.  There is at least a small consolation that I didn’t stumble stupid into something.  I earned it.

And where I seek the rest of my consolation is in looking to learn enough from each latest mistake that I won’t repeat it.

5 thoughts on “Of Roundabouts and Red lights

  1. “Everyone has to pay more attention” is an argument that they must logically therefore be safer?


    Honestly, it’s bad enough when a hesitant driver is at a regular stoplight during a busy time. At a roundabout, one could tie up the intersection for hours. Well, for ke’, anyway. (ke’ = Chinese measurement of 1/4 hour)

  2. You brought up two different points, Dal, but they don’t cancel each other out.

    That more-experienced drivers are annoyed with the less is something that will never change, so I’m still going to teach my children to wait until they feel safe; no matter how long that takes.

    Since I’ll be spending much of their youth reminding them to trust their teaching and their instincts more than outside pressures, I don’t expect driving to be any different.

    Can you come up with another argument why or where “Everyone has to pay more attention” isn’t safer than the alternative?

  3. As I’m sure you know I live overseas and roundabouts are the norm, here even though we have some stop lights too. My favorite roundabouts are those that mix the two. Yes, we have stop lights mixed into our roundabouts. They have 4 settings, 3 of which are the same from the states (red, yellow, and green) but we have flashing yellow too. This one means that you can go if able and I find it very valuable. That way I’m not stuck at the intersection when no one is coming. They do take a little bit to get used to but one you go through 10 or so it is fine, well, most of the time.

  4. I suppose if you’re around lots of them 10 wouldn’t take so long to rack (wrack?) up, but here that could take a while.

    For my way of learning the number of encounters matters, but the timing of the repetitions does too. If they’re all squished together I tend to need more, but I can make do with a significantly lesser number if the timing is spread out right.

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