Aerial view of the Magic Roundabout
Beware The Magic Roundabout!
A recent survey has revealed that Swindon's notorious Magic Roundabout system is the seventh most feared road junction in England. We look back to when it was opened in 1972 with a vintage Points West TV report.
In a December 2007 survey by the Highway Insurance Agency, it was found that Swindon's most famous landmark, the so-called Magic Roundabout is the seventh most feared road junction in the country as voted for by UK road users.
Highway Insurance managing director Chris Hill said of the survey: "Anxiety has a significant impact on drivers' behaviour so it's interesting to see how motorists react to a major junction like this.
Swindon's Magic Roundbout in 1972
"I suspect that, for many people, the thought of these junctions is actually worse than the reality."
So how did such a system come to be developed and why? Well, back in 1972, the Road Research Laboratory chose a dangerous junction in Swindon on which to unleash its latest road safety device – the Ring Junction.
Only Colchester in Essex boasted a similar dangerous junction and the Road Research Lab was happy to provide a similar solution – to combine two roundabouts into a single large roundabout and then to divide that into five mini roundabouts in which to circulate – or lose – the traffic.
A bit of white paint and some tyres were originally put into position to mark out the new junction and then, from their crane, the boffins watched the cars and lorries, cyclists and mopeds go round, and round, and round… until they – or the drivers – got dizzy.
The man from the Lab
Dante's Traffic Inferno!
Police officers were positioned at each junction and once the traffic had built up sufficiently they let the vehicles move forward – effectively opening the gates and allowing drivers to step into a Dante’s traffic inferno.
But with the number of accidents on the roundabout considered to be relatively low for a junction of its kind, the Magic Roundabout in Swindon has been deemed an all round success. It has also become a talking point.
The band XTC used the Magic Roundabout concept to inspire one of their tunes, and the BBC even incorporated the phenomenon into an entire feature about people’s passion for where they live in which Swindonian’s became quite passionate about the thought of loosing their Magic Roundabout.
And yet, if one keeps in mind the mantra 'give way to the right… give way to the right' the concept behind the Magic Roundabout is simple.
Despite such simple advice though, coming across the junction for the first time, when you do not really know which way you are going, is daunting to say the least.
It has never been investigated but, by all accounts, everyone who has safely negotiated Swindon's Magic Roundabout has emerged unscathed – and who knows, a better driver for the experience!
1972 Points West TV report
We've unearthed from the local BBC TV archives a Points West television news report from 1972 presented by John Walmsley which takes a look at the then newly-opened Magic Roundabout.
Points West Reporter John Walmsley
Among the highlights in the film - look out for the learner driver and lorries who have to deal with the oncoming traffic’s inability to obey the simple 'give way to the right' rule. Watch it enough times and the experience becomes quite mesmerising!
It just proves that the unique roundabout system has been baffling people for the best part of 35 years! Here's to it.
last updated: 05/12/2008 at 14:17
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Joe Paycheck Seattle WA
maggie -ex resident of Swindon
Isambard Clueless Brunel
Charlote Williams (Trowbridge)