Youngsters from Saline learn the rules of the road in drivers ed. Last week, officials from the Washtenaw County Road Commission joined drivers ed staff to teach the prospective young drivers how to maneuver in roundabouts.
“Basically we’re trying to teach students how to understand the laws so they can use good judgement so they can drive our roads safely,” said Mark McCullough, a senior engineer with the Washtenaw County Road Commission.
After time in the classroom, students went to the auxiliary gym where there were two intersections set up. The students were divided in two – one half started at the traditional signalized intersection and the other at the roundabout.
Then the groups were divided again, so that students were coming into each intersection from four directions. Each student was given directions explaining which way they were to go at the intersection. Then, they walked through the intersection.
What followed was eye-opening. At the roundabout, the scene was kind of chaotic but traffic moved through quickly. Traffic at the signaled intersection was orderly, but slow. With lots of people standing in long lines, waiting for the lights to change.
McCullough said the students’ behavior at the roundabout mirrors what you see at State and Ellsworth at 5 p.m. on any given day.
“It’s important for the students to understand that you can't be on auto pilot when you go through the intersection. You have to use judgment, you have to be calm and you have to be confident. That’s what we’re trying to teach them so that they stay out of situations,” McCullough said.
The State and Ellsworth roundabout has seen more than its share of collisions – though most are minor in nature. The two most common collisions are caused by failure to yield or turning from the incorrect lane.
“We’re trying to get people to understand to slow their speed down driving through the intersection. The slower you’re going, the more time you have to look at a situation and be able to slow down or stop, if needed, to avoid a collision,” McCullough said.
Educating drivers about roundabouts has been a challenge and McCullough hopes that young drivers will teach their parents.
“We had 170 collisions (at State and Ellsworth) in 2015. It was the most crash-prone intersection in the State of Michigan. It doesn’t mean it was the most dangerous, it was just the most crash-prone,” McCullough said. “We had a questionnaire around the county and we had 4,300 responses and the number one thing that came back was that we need better roundabout public education. So we want to use the younger drivers as a conduit to get to mom and dad.”
Scott Marvin, who teaches drivers ed for the district, said he appreciated the county’s contribution to the lesson.
“The students are going to be our teachers. The adults are the ones who don’t know how to do roundabouts,” Marvin said. “It was great that the kids were able to walk through it, so that ice is going to be a little bit broken before they start driving.”
The county road commission has worked with Saline Area Schools students on roundabout education in the past. Students in the video production class taught by Nate Bush won a road commission public service announcement video contest.