orange camp roundabout
BEACON PHOTO/MARSHA MCLAUGHLIN

Complaining about roundabouts is nothing new, but after a roundabout opened at the intersection of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Beltway and Orange Camp Road near Victoria Park, there was something new: complaints about crashes.

Between its opening April 11 and the end of August, there have been 17 crashes in and around the roundabout, according to the Florida Highway Patrol. That’s 13 more crashes than were reported during the same period of time in 2021, before the roundabout replaced a signal-controlled four-way intersection.

Expanding the roundabout in July from a single lane to two lanes apparently made things worse. Four of the 17 crashes occurred when the roundabout was operating with just a single lane from April 11 to July 26. The other 13 happened between July 26, when the second lane of the roundabout opened, and Aug. 31.

County engineers are aware of the problem, and are monitoring the crash data.

“The County has been monitoring the roundabout by video and by site visit, in addition to reviewing the crash reports,” county engineer Tadd Kasbeer said. “While we’re very pleased with the drastic reduction in motorist time spent waiting at a traffic signal at this location, the increase in accidents is definitely a concern, and the County is evaluating potential adjustments to help drivers adjust.”

Kasbeer noted that crashes have tended to occur in the first two weeks after changes happened.

“Based on the data for both periods [before and after the second lane opened], there is a learning curve for drivers, as expected,” he said.

DRONE FOOTAGE BY PIGEONS VIEW AERIAL PHOTOGRAPHY
This video shows a near-miss between a motorcycle and a truck at the roundabout in April of this year, before both lanes were opened.

There’s definitely been an uptick in traffic incidents at the intersection over past years. In 2018, 2019 and 2020, there were five crashes each year at the intersection during the months of April through August. In 2021, there were just four, compared to this year’s 17.

While the numbers are higher, Volusia County spokesman Gary Davidson noted, the more-recent crashes have been minor.

“… it’s important to note that while there have been a number of crashes since the roundabout opened,” Davidson said, “none of them have reported to have resulted in fatality or injury.”

According to data from the Volusia Sheriff’s Office, two calls the agency received to the roundabout had to do with injuries caused by car wrecks, but most of the calls were about minor fender benders.

The Beacon requested additional information from the Florida Highway Patrol about car crashes at the intersection 2018-2021, but that information was not yet available at press time.

Generally, though, roundabouts result in fewer fatalities than four-way stops.

That’s why roundabouts are installed anywhere, Loreen Bobo told The Beacon.

Bobo is safety administrator for the Florida Department of Transportation’s District 5, which includes Volusia County.

“The point of the roundabout is it’s slowing you down as you approach the intersection,” she said. “It keeps you moving through the intersection, and it doesn’t eliminate the potential for an interaction between two vehicles, but, because you’re going at a much slower speed, the results of that interaction are … maybe not deadly.”

Engineer Kasbeer commented on the crashes.

“Based on the County’s review of the crash reports, a majority of the crashes are due to drivers changing lanes, straying into the adjacent lane or basically misunderstanding the movement pattern in the roundabout,” he said. “In response to citizen concerns, the County has already made a change to remove the left-turn arrows in the center of the outside approach lanes. Also, in addition to improving efforts to educate the driving public, the County is considering other adjustments to help drivers better understand and follow the driving pattern.”

So, while other changes may be in the works, the overall safety of roundabouts is proven, mostly because the potential for head-on or T-bone crashes is eliminated.

Head-ons or T-bones — the kinds of crashes most likely to result in serious injury or death — happen when perpendicular streets intersect.

“There are way more opportunities for two vehicles — or more than that really — to have a conflict with each other if somebody’s not where they should be,” Bobo said. “Whereas in a roundabout … you’re making that right to get into the roundabout; at any given time, you’re only interacting with maybe one other vehicle.”

Another factor, Bobo said, is that roundabouts don’t require traffic signals that can be rendered useless during a storm.

“If there’s a hurricane, or if there’s a storm,” she said, “we don’t have to worry about getting those signal wires restored or getting the power back restored. It still functions.”

At the state level, Bobo said, FDOT doesn’t just install roundabouts willy-nilly. The decisions are made based on the specificities of each intersection.

“We are wanting to implement the best solutions for each specific intersection, area, region, whatever it may be,” she said. “I think sometimes there’s a misnomer that we want to throw roundabouts in every intersection. We actually do a pretty intensive evaluation to make sure we’re building the right safety solution for whatever it is we’re trying to solve.”

Volusia County spokesman Davidson talked about the kinds of crashes that have been happening at the new circular intersection.

“In analyzing the crash types, three of the crashes involved drivers entering the roundabout and failing to yield to other drivers in the roundabout, and the other seven occurred within the traffic circle between cars crossing lanes,” Davidson told The Beacon.

A resident had reported that a motorist got confused and went the wrong way in the roundabout, causing a crash. The county could find no report of that.

“None of the accidents involved a driver turning left into the roundabout and going the wrong way,” Davidson said.

At least one crash did result in an alleged dust-up between two drivers. However, while both drivers claimed the other punched him in the face, a Volusia County sheriff’s deputy found neither driver exhibited “injuries consistent with being struck in the face.”

Who’s in charge?

Volusia County — We started with Volusia County in our attempt to get crash data. A traffic engineer there told us that recent crash data might not reflect safety conditions once construction is over and drivers get accustomed to the roundabout.

For crash reports, he said, we would have to turn to the state Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles or to local law-enforcement agencies. Also, the county receives crash-report data through a third-party system that the county pays to access, and county officials were not sure, at first, whether they were allowed to share the data with The Beacon. Later, a county engineer shared screenshots of the third-party dashboard that showed there had been five crashes since the roundabout opened in April.

“There are all sorts of variables, such as how the data is processed, input, and the way the system is queried, that can impact the results that are returned,” a county spokesman said, describing the third-party platform.

Florida Highway Patrol/Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles — We submitted a records request to FHP on Aug. 12, asking for historical data about crashes at the intersection of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Beltway and Orange Camp Road, to compare the number of crashes at the intersection before the roundabout opened to the number of crashes there now. On Sept. 6, we received a report from the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles that shows numerical data about traffic crashes from 2018 to the end of August 2022, but gives no indication about the nature of the crashes or their seriousness.

Volusia County Sheriff’s Office — We asked, first, for statistics about crashes responded to by the Sheriff’s Office since the roundabout opened. We were told that FHP handles crashes at that intersection.

Later, we asked more formally for Sheriff’s Office incident reports for crashes at the roundabout from April 11 through Aug. 28, and we received six incident reports from the Sheriff’s Office. They were accompanied by this note from the Sheriff’s Office spokesman: “It’s always possible there are others I’m missing, or minor crashes that didn’t generate an incident report because the driver(s) exchanged info on their own and left.”

A resident concerned about safety at the roundabout also requested a “call summary” report from the Sheriff’s Office and shared it with The Beacon. The report shows 24 motor-vehicle-related calls between April 11 and Aug. 22, 2022, but the report indicates that the DeLand Police Department responded to three crashes.

Further, the Sheriff’s Office advised that since the intersection is within DeLand’s jurisdiction, detailed reports about any incidents would have to be obtained from DeLand.

DeLand Police Department — The roundabout is within DeLand city limits, but in response to a query about which agency has jurisdiction over crashes at the roundabout, the City of DeLand confirmed that the Volusia County Sheriff’s Office responds to crashes at the roundabout.

However, according to the state, most crashes at the roundabout are handled by FHP, especially when they involve injuries or significant property damage.

According to state data sent to The Beacon as part of our records request, the DeLand Police Department responded to one crash at the intersection between Jan. 1 and April 11, before the roundabout opened, and to six others since 2019.

Despite the Sheriff’s Office directing us to the City of DeLand for detailed information, city officials said incidents at the intersection are handled by the Sheriff’s Office. Also, an email from DeLand’s city manager to a resident who had inquired about trouble with the roundabout indicates that the city has asked the Sheriff’s Office for jurisdiction over the intersection, but has not gotten approval for that.

Florida Department of Transportation — While FDOT was able to shed light on generalities about roundabout safety, the roundabout at the MLK Beltway and Orange Camp Road was built and is managed by Volusia County, and lies outside of FDOT’s jurisdiction. The FDOT does not maintain crash data.

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