You know how we like roundabouts in the UK? I thought we were world-class roundabout proponents.
Take, for example, multi-mini ‘magic’ roundabouts. In the most famous, in Swindon, five mini-roundabouts create one large one that is officially signposted ‘The Magic Roundabout’. There’s a technically more challenging, six-roundabout affair in Hemel Hempstead, but it’s lesser known, I suspect, because it’s merely called ‘The Plough Roundabout’. But both are little short of works of genius.
I use the Hemel Hempstead one quite often, and short of a hugely extravagant system of flyovers that would occupy the entirety of south Hertfordshire, I can’t think of a system that would deal with so much traffic, from so many routes, with such deftness.
Sure, there’s a bit of a skill to it – a touch of planning required – but all you really need to remember is that each one is a roundabout and the same rules apply to each one.
If there was one thing, I thought, that the British did wrong with roundabouts, it was routinely stick traffic lights on what is, ultimately, a fine engineering answer all on its own, and leave them on all the time. Okay, sometimes, at really busy times, traffic lights are useful. But wilfully stopping vehicles in quieter traffic conditions is unnecessary, polluting, wasteful and infuriating.
Anyway, I still thought we were roundabout geniuses. Until... last week, I was talking to a German engineer, who reminded me that, in his homeland, you don’t signal to show that you’re continuing around roundabout you’re on, as you should in the UK: you know, signal right, move right on approach, continue to signal right until you’ve passed the junction before the one you want, and then you signal left.
In Germany, he says, you only signal to show you’re exiting. It’s an unfailingly logical approach. You are, simply, continuing on your chosen road, which is an unflinching path around the roundabout, until you tell somebody otherwise. Thereby it perhaps removes the ‘are you going right and too lazy to signal, or are you going straight on?’ confusion we sometimes get here. For a moment, I thought he was on to something.
Then I remembered that, well, this might work perfectly in Germany, where drivers better obey signalling rules than we might do here. But if somebody’s already too lazy to signal right, why should it make them more likely to signal their exit if you remove that obligation? You might end up knowing less, not more.