Traffic circles—commonly known as roundabouts and rotaries—are much more efficient than four-way intersections. Because they don’t have traffic lights, they keep vehicles moving through complex intersections in an even, smooth flow. However, rotaries and roundabouts still have their unique dangers. While a crash with another car is less likely to be fatal, there is still the potential for injury. Our local car accident attorney discusses the nuances of roundabout and rotary car accidents throughout Massachusetts.

Roundabout, Rotary, and Traffic Circle Car Accidents in Massachusetts

Accident liability in a traffic circleThe Commonwealth of Massachusetts has more rotaries than any other state in the nation. In 2017, the Boston Globe reported that MassDOT was turning all of its 100+ rotaries into roundabouts, opting for the safer and slower form of traffic circle.

Roundabout vs Rotary

A rotary is a larger traffic circle with fewer road signs and lane markings than a roundabout. There are no intersections; rather, there are only specific access points where drivers can merge in or move out of lanes. Drivers who enter the circle may be traveling at high speeds and have the choice of exiting at the next access point or merging inward toward the hub. Rotaries don’t define turn lanes (or even travel lanes) within the circle, so drivers may change lanes at will before their exit. Finally, rotaries do not require drivers to yield to traffic in the circle automatically.

A roundabout is generally smaller than a rotary and has a consistent number of clearly marked lanes. When entering, all drivers must yield to vehicles in the circle before merging into their chosen lane. Roundabouts may have multiple roads around the center hub, but drivers must choose their exit lane before entering the circle. No lane changes are allowed once inside the roundabout, and drivers must continue to the exit at the end of their lane.

Common Causes of Car Accidents in Roundabouts

Even after all of the Massachusetts rotaries have been upgraded, drivers will still face challenges when maneuvering through a roundabout, and injuries will still occur. The sheer number of cars entering and exiting a relatively small circle creates an overwhelming risk of side-impact crashes and rear-end collisions.

Confused Drivers

Drivers not used to roundabouts may treat them like rotaries, entering them at high speeds and changing lanes at will. An unfamiliarity with traffic circles can result in illegal lane changes or failing to yield the right of way.


A working roundabout should move like a well-oiled machine, but one vehicle can quickly break that machine. Roundabouts are designed so that traffic moves continuously within the circle. If a driver brakes suddenly or comes to a complete stop, it will disrupt the flow of traffic and likely cause an accident.

Improper Roundabout Design

In addition to proper signage, roundabouts must have adequate space for drivers to speed up and slow down, good pedestrian crossings, and regular maintenance to keep bushes and landscaping from blocking visibility. If the design or construction of the roundabout is inherently flawed, victims might be able to sue the state, city, or other municipality.

Talk to a Massachusetts Car Accident Lawyer Today

The person who caused your accident is responsible for compensating you for damages. However, your injuries may prevent you from taking swift action against the at-fault party. Our experienced personal injury attorneys can investigate the accident on your behalf, determine what went wrong, and identify the person or entity responsible for your injuries.

If you have been hurt in a crash that wasn’t your fault, the injury attorneys at Mahaney & Pappas, LLP are here to help. Please reach out to us, or call 508-879-3500 to schedule a free case evaluation. 


Charles S. Pappas
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Massachusetts injury lawyer & workers' compensation attorney serving accident victims in Webster & Framingham.
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