The proliferation of roundabouts in Franklin County – especially around Hilliard, Dublin, New Albany, Gahanna, and Groveport – seems to have precipitated fender benders in some circles. But they also have led to a reduction in serious crashes near those locations.

The City of Hilliard hosted an event on March 28 that emphasized the absence of fatalities on Ohio roundabouts, but also called for better training on and understanding of how to use them.

“No fatal accidents have been recorded on Ohio roundabouts. But some roundabouts are overdesigned – too big, too many lanes, too confusing,” said Phil Renaud of The Ohio State University’s Risk Institute. “Some need to be narrowed down to achieve a more-focused entry point.”

Norwich Township Fire Chief Jeffrey Warren added that his jurisdiction, which includes Hilliard, has never had to use the Jaws of Life tool for serious crashes at any of its 14 roundabouts.

Michelle May, the Ohio Department of Transportation’s program manager for Highway Safety, said that of 300,000 Ohio crashes, 37 percent include serious injury and 27 percent include fatalities – frequently from angle crashes.

“Roundabouts reduce these kinds of crashes,” May said.

The next challenge, then, is to reduce the number of minor fender benders that tend to be a result of confusion, or a lack of familiarity with roundabouts.

That’s a goal for Letty Schamp, Hilliard’s deputy city engineer. She said at the event that roundabout training should be a part of driver training, but added that part of the onus should be on traffic planners. Hilliard is considering changes such as overhead lane-control signs.

Renaud said the Risk Institute has four pillars for traffic safety: Behavior, urban planning, legislation, and technology. Behavior – especially in the case of distracted driving – is a major one. In construction zones, he said, “people seem to think they can do other things while driving and be safe because traffic is slower.” That is not the case at all.

As for urban planning, Renaud said the design of our streets, intersections, and communities can affect our behavior at roundabouts and other places.

“Buildings up to the street present a sort of optical illusion that makes us focus more on the traffic pattern,” he said. Buildings – or trees or planters – can function as sort of an enclosure, a defined space for the road, which can increase a driver’s awareness of the surroundings.

Schamp agreed.

“There’s a psychological slowing down. It changes the feel of the road,” she said. But the necessary changes don’t occur overnight. The question, she said, is “How do we influence communities to think about these things as they plan for the future?”