Posted by / Category London, Stereotypes, Travel /

Right. It all happened the other morning, when I was starting the school run. As you may know, in England there are roundabouts everywhere. They swear by roundabouts over here. Roundabouts are apparently the solution to all traffic problems, without any exception. Small junction? No problem, let’s put a small roundabout. Big junction? Let’s put a huge one, or even a double or a triple one. There is even a ‘magic roundabout’ in Swindon; it consists of five mini-roundabouts arranged around a sixth central. I kid you not. They are thinking of listing it, I am told. Something to do with epitomising British values such as spontaneous cooperation. I am joking of course (I told you, even we French sometimes do sarcasm).

But I digress. When I arrived at the small roundabout down the road, I made sure I was driving slowly, controlling the speed of my Chelsea tractor, when a black cab arrived full speed ahead, ignoring that I was actually already on the thing, turning right. He honked furiously, at 7am, and I felt that I had no choice but to stop and let him pass while he was calling me all sorts of names.

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What was that? What had I done wrong?

I started missing the give-way signs of my childhood, in France. Don’t get me wrong, we French have roundabouts too. A lot of them, actually. But it’s usually for middle-sized junctions, and you tend to have a better visibility of the other incoming lanes than over here, in my opinion. Because frankly, I don’t see the point of a small roundabout where you can’t see much unless you are actually on the roundabout itself. And don’t lecture me about compromise and cooperation, because that morning it was all about ‘I am going faster than you so give way’. There had been nothing British about the whole episode, just plain old bullying.

Back home, I decided to go back to basics, and looked up who invented the roundabout. And guess what, there was some controversy as to whether it was the British (most likely) of the French (which would surprised me very much but hey, I might be wrong). The roundabout was apparently invented in England in 1966, and was then deployed all over Europe, Asia and Australia to great effect. For many Americans, it still epitomised European driving. The traffic circle was much older, dating to late 19th century, and was most commonly found in North America. Some claimed it was a French invention. Traffic circles were circular or elliptical islands, with a big central island (usually 300 to 600 feet wide). They were designed for vehicles to enter, merge, circulate, change lanes and exit at relatively high speeds (30 to 50 mph). Needless to say, people hated traffic circles (the French thing) and loved the roundabouts (the British thing). I am still unsure as to why, apart maybe from the speed issue (obviously if you drive faster you will be more prone to serious crashes), and the usual French bashing.

So why are roundabouts so popular? Well, according to the articles I read, roundabouts are deemed safer than traditional junctions because their design precludes most high-risk situations. Some experts have explained that there are several reasons why roundabouts help reduce the likelihood and severity of collisions, such as a low travel speed, no light to beat, and the fact that it’s a one-way travel.

That said, I couldn’t help noticing that more and more roundabouts were being rendered pointless by having traffic lights added to them. So much for all the purists out there.

And you are not going to believe it: just when I was coming home this afternoon, I saw someone going the wrong way in the roundabout around the corner. They must be French, right?

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