Roundabouts – Friend or Foe

Roundabouts in one form or another have existed since the 1700’s. The first known circular junction in the world was the “Bath Circus” world heritage site completed in 1768. There have been other circular junctions that have existed around the world including; Britain, United States and France. However the rules of these circular junctions were far different to the rules we have today for modern roundabouts.

It wasn’t until the “Transport Research Laboratory” decided to re-engineer these junctions that the modern roundabout was born in 1965 in Great Britain. The simple rule of giving way to the right (in the UK and other countries who drive on the left) kept traffic flowing by allowing everyone an equal chance to join and exit a busy junction. Roundabouts also lead to better safety due to the fact that traffic is forced to slow down as it approaches the roundabout in order to give way. What’s is more, when compared to light controlled junctions that typically involve collisions from either the side or head on, roundabouts tend to have less serious collisions. With the traffic flowing in the same direction, any collisions tend to be less serious where any impact tends to be nudging each other from the sides.

Larger roundabouts tend to be quite high by either building a mound or using trees and shrubs to build up the height. This is done to deliberately to block the view of drivers on the approach in order to slow their speeds down before they get a good view. This slowing down principle helps to make the roundabout safer. Another way to slow the traffic is to curve the approach lanes. That gives the driver more steering to do and more time is also spent looking ahead as well as to the right such that the driver is not able to make a decision about whether it’s clear to early.

Roundabouts not only make it safer for drivers but also for pedestrians due to the slower speeds. Roundabouts have on average; 40% fewer collisions, 80% fewer injuries and 90% less fatalities, when compared to other types of junctions. In many occasions roundabouts make it safer for cyclists. However sometimes roundabouts can make it more dangerous for cyclists. This is usually the case on much larger roundabouts where traffic flow tends to be faster. On many occasions the cars leaving the roundabout collide with cyclists who are continuing around the roundabout. This is especially true where a separate cycle lane is marked out round the perimeter that encourages cyclists to hug the outside of the roundabout as they traverse around it. Drivers coming off tend not to realise that the cyclists are going to continue further around and collisions can be serious. It is actually safer for cyclists to travel in the middle of the lane designed for cars. That way, car drivers can not only see the cyclist easier but will be forced to slow down behind them. Anyone who takes driving lessons in Newbury will be aware of the “St. Johns” roundabout which has such a designated lane for cyclists. I have seen a number of near collisions with cars coming off and cyclist still traversing around.

All in all roundabouts are by far the best way to keep traffic flowing at junctions and to make them safer. However the design is all important to make it safer for drivers, pedestrians and cyclists.