A sign alerts drivers to a roundabout ahead at 18 ½ Mile Road and Van Dyke Avenue. The roundabout received recent attention when the Michigan Auto Law blog called it the most dangerous intersection in Michigan.

A sign alerts drivers to a roundabout ahead at 18 ½ Mile Road and Van Dyke Avenue. The roundabout received recent attention when the Michigan Auto Law blog called it the most dangerous intersection in Michigan.

Photo by Deb Jacques

Crash-prone roundabout makes blog’s ‘most dangerous’ top 10

Some traffic safety experts dispute label

By: Eric Czarnik | Sterling Heights Sentry | Published July 17, 2020


STERLING HEIGHTS — Something round is drawing attention in Sterling Heights, and this time it’s not The Halo.

The Michigan Auto Law blog, which runs annual lists of Michigan’s “most dangerous intersections,” in late June dubbed Sterling Heights’ roundabout at 18 1/2 Mile Road and Van Dyke Avenue the most dangerous intersection in the state.

Michigan Auto Law, a law firm with five locations, including one in Sterling Heights, listed the reasons for putting the roundabout at the top of the list. It said the intersection’s car wrecks rose by 62% in a one-year period, explaining that in 2018 it had 141 accidents, while it had 229 the following year. And of those 229 crashes, 14 resulted in injuries, according to the firm.

“This is surprising, considering this interchange has been a roundabout for well over 10 years and local drivers are familiar with it,” the site states. “Hopefully, this busy area near a large manufacturing plant will see improvements in 2020.”

The blog states that Sterling Heights had other  dangerous intersections among the top 10 in Macomb County in 2019, either within the city or along the borders. These include No. 3, Hall and Schoenherr roads, with 96 crashes and 16 injuries; No. 7, Metropolitan Parkway and Mound Road, with 77 crashes and 15 injuries; No. 9, 14 Mile Road and Dequindre Road, with 73 crashes and 18 injuries; and No. 10, Metropolitan Parkway and Van Dyke, with 72 crashes and 17 injuries.

According to the blog, the statistics come from the Michigan State Police Traffic Crash Reporting Unit. The figures pertain to accidents that happened within 250 feet of the intersection, the website added.

However, not everyone agrees with the metrics that Michigan Auto Law uses to define danger.

Jim Santilli, the CEO of the Troy-based Transportation Improvement Association, said the TIA had its own stats for the 18 1/2 Mile/Van Dyke roundabout, via its Traffic Crash Analysis Tool.

Santilli said the tool listed 228 crashes there in 2019. Among those crashes, 215 had property damage without injuries. Among the rest, 13 people reported having a possible injury, and one person had a suspected minor injury, he said, adding that none of the crashes had serious injuries or deaths.

“An intersection that has a high number of crashes does not necessarily mean it is dangerous,” Santilli said in an email. “Traffic volume and the severity of the crashes must also be taken into account.”

Santilli said the TIA, as well as the Road Commission for Oakland County, explained that to Michigan Auto Law several years ago. But he said the law firm “continues to release crash data without any professional explanation.”

“Doing so causes an inaccurate public perception,” Santilli said. “In the future, I hope Michigan Auto Law will start consulting with traffic safety experts prior to releasing crash data.”

Santilli said roundabouts actually reduce injuries or deaths, citing studies that reveal a 78%-82% decline in serious injuries and deaths compared to normal four-way intersections. He believes that this is due to roundabouts’ lower speeds and their reduction in intersection “conflict points” from 32 to, typically, eight.

“They eliminate the potential for right-angle and head-on left-turn crashes, which often tend to result in serious injuries and fatalities,” he said.

Santilli attributed driver behavior and human error with around 94%-96% of motor vehicle crashes. He said drivers must take responsibility to keep themselves and innocent lives’ safe by paying attention and avoiding distractions like text messages, social media and video chat.

He also gave tips on how to navigate a roundabout safely.

“When approaching a roundabout, slow down and pick your lane,” he said. “Yield to traffic before entering the roundabout. Vehicles in the roundabout have the right of way. If there is no traffic present, don’t stop. Stay in your lane until you exit the roundabout.”

Sterling Heights police Sgt. Aaron Susalla guessed that the crash numbers were related to the roundabout’s size and its traffic volumes.

“There are more accidents probably, but the amount of devastating accidents is very minimal,” he said. “It’s minimal property damage that’s occurring there. It’s not the personal injury accidents.

“Cars and property can be fixed. When lives are lost or injuries affect livelihoods of people, me personally, I’d take property damage any day.”

In response,  Michigan Auto Law attorney Steven Gursten replied in an email and stood by his site’s lists and their reasoning. He repeated his site’s statistics on the number of crashes at the roundabout, as well as the year-over-year increase.

“The danger of getting involved in and injured in a car accident is greatest when a person is driving through an intersection or roundabout that has a high number of car accidents,” he said.

“So given that the risk of being injured in a car accident is proportionate to the likelihood of a car accident occurring, 18 1/2 Mile Road and Van Dyke Avenue is definitely a dangerous intersection,” he added.

Gursten said it’s an error for critics to insist that an intersection’s danger should only be based on reported on-scene injuries or ambulance runs. He said that doesn’t take into account drivers who don’t immediately go to the ER or feel severe pain.

“Pain and injuries after a crash can and often do get progressively worse,” he said. “Often what people think is a minor injury that will go away becomes a disabling injury over time.

“Insisting on only counting the injuries to people who go to the hospital from the scene of a crash lets them ignore hundreds, even thousands of drivers who are injured at these intersections.”

Gursten said his firm makes its dangerous intersection lists as a public service to promote road safety. He said drivers should be aware of intersections with many crashes so they can either avoid them, take different routes or be cautious.

“Additionally, by showing that certain intersections and roundabouts are more dangerous by virtue of their higher volume of car crashes, our list can hopefully prompt safety-conscious township and county officials to look into the reasons why there are so many car accidents at these locations and what they can do to make these locations safer for us all,” he said.

Find out more about Michigan Auto Law by visiting www.michiganautolaw.com. Find out more about the Transportation Improvement Association by visiting www.tiasafety.us.