Bad driving in Michigan roundabouts focus of police patrols

Darcie Moran
mlive.com

YPSILANTI TOWNSHIP, MI – Officers from multiple Washtenaw County police agencies have spent the month going in circles – literally – but officials hope a month-long roundabout enforcement effort will have a lasting effect on area drivers.

The cooperative effort between the Washtenaw County Sheriff’s Office, Michigan State Police, the Ann Arbor Police Department and the Pittsfield Township Department of Public Safety led deputies, troopers and police officers to swarm the 18 traffic circles in the county throughout the month of April, including April 10 when Washtenaw County Sheriff’s Deputy Jeremiah Richardson took Ann Arbor News reporter Darcie Moran on an enforcement ride along in Ypsilanti Township.

“It’s more about education,” Richardson said, while driving near the roundabout at Stony Creek and Whittaker roads. “A lot of people don’t know how to navigate roundabouts.”

Police have said most crashes take place because drivers fail to yield when entering the roundabout or turn off the roundabout using the wrong lane.

According to the Michigan Department of Transportation, the correct way to go through a roundabout is to:

    Choose your lane before entering

    Yield to traffic already in the roundabout

    Yield to pedestrians in crosswalks

    Use signs and pavement marking to help guide you

In a short 2.5 hours, Richardson stopped about 10 vehicles for various offenses – aside from roundabout usage, a few people were stopped for alleged texting while driving, speeding, failure to stop at a stop sign, and not wearing a seatbelt – issued a few tickets, and handed out flyers with information about how to properly use a roundabout.

Richardson has worked on traffic enforcement off-and-on throughout his five years as Washtenaw County Sheriff’s deputy, as more and more roundabouts were constructed throughout the county.

He’s seen motorists attempt to drive through the construction in the past and, on April 10, watched as they stopped mid-roundabout when they saw his police vehicle.

One man pulled over by Richardson said he simply didn’t see another vehicle when he failed to yield at the Stony Creek and Whittaker roads roundabout and subsequently stopped in a middle lane. He said the other vehicle was going too fast.

“It’s very dangerous,” the man told Richardson, who reminded him of the speed limit in the area before letting him go.

But the danger of roundabouts might be a misconception.

Mark McCulloch, senior project manager at the Washtenaw County Road Commission, has overseen the development of roundabouts in the county and said statistics show roundabouts are safer compared to conventional intersections. He also noted there is a difference between crash-prone intersections and dangerous intersections.

The U.S. Department of Transportations has cited data from the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials that roundabouts reduce the types of crashes where people are seriously hurt or killed by 78 – 82 percent when compared to conventional stop-controlled and signalized intersections.

McCulloch said when information was released that the State Street and Ellsworth Road roundabout in Ann Arbor was recorded to have the most crashes of any intersection in Michigan in 2014, area officials began to take a closer look. As part of the inquiry, an online questionnaire revealed many motorists believed further education was needed.

This month’s roundabout enforcement detail is just one aspect of solving that larger issue, McCulloch said.

Since the questionnaire results came back, McCulloch and the heads of multiple agencies have been working to develop a plan to increase awareness around roundabout usage.

Aside from law enforcement, the department hopes to execute a plan – though still under construction – including the development of instructional videos – a few that have already been prepared by Saline High School students – in hopes they may be used as sponsored ads on social media, and a cooperative effort between Saline Area Schools and the All Star Driver Education and Driving School to make sure parents who take their children to driver education classes also see roundabout education videos, McCulloch said. In addition, an effort funded by the Ann Arbor-based Kemner Iott Benz insurance agency will give “swag bags” with educational information to students, with the hope parents will also see the roundabout tips.

Aspects of the project – including funding for portions and which classrooms will allow the gift bags to be distributed – are still being developed. However, McCulloch said the cooperative nature of the project may be a novel idea.

“The results are going to be, frankly, in crash statistics,” he said. “But if we stay the course and do nothing, nothing’s going to change.”

While the exact success of the project may not be known immediately, Washtenaw County Sheriff’s Sgt. David Archer, who helped organize the detail, said mid-month that half of all the roundabout instruction pamphlets had already been given to drivers.

“The real objective of these is high-visibility enforcement,” Archer said. “It affects you psychologically.”

It appeared to be working, as drivers slowed to see three cars pulled over by different police agencies along one quarter-mile of road April 10.

While information on the number of tickets written and pamphlets issued during the April enforcement effort weren’t immediately available, Archer said the true focus of the detail has been education – not ticket-writing.

“That’s really what we’re trying to do is make people more aware (that) we’re out here, to drive cautiously and to drive within the law,” he said.

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