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13 November 2014

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You are in: Wiltshire > History > Archive Films > Beware The Magic Roundabout!

Aerial view of the Magic Roundabout

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.

The Magic Roundabout in Swindon, 1972

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.

Road Research Lab interviewee

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.

John Walmsley reporting from Swindon

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
created: 16/11/2005

Have Your Say

Tell us your experiences of the Magic Roundabout.

The BBC reserves the right to edit comments submitted.

Simon Crankshaw
I went on the magic roundabout it was fun

Simon Evans
I live in Devizes, and have negotiated the Magic Roundabout infrequently. It is bad news as there is too much going on for a novice to take on board before entering the system. The contra-rotating section in the centre does not work according to one's expectations of traffic flow, and figuring out who has priority is a nightmare. Regardless of what traffic is going where, I feel safer using the outside mini roundabouts. But mostly I avoid the damn thing, no doubt clogging up streets elsewhere. I suspect the reason the traffic authorities can claim it is a success is because it frightens so many drivers into taking an alternative route.

H Green
I've had one experience of the Magic Roundabout, about 10 years ago, which I hope never to repeat! My cousin had just passed her driving test and wanted to go for a drive, so for some reason, we decided to go to Swindon. However, being a new driver she wasn't very confident in navigating and driving at the same time, so asked me to navigate for her by telling her which way to go at roundabouts in the same way as her driving instructor would (1st exit, 2md, exit, etc). We successfully got from Southampton to Swindon, but when we got to the Magic Roundabout, with it's big roundabout sign with blue blobs, I had no idea which exit to tell her to go for (or indeed which mini-roundabout!). Navigating it seemed impossile, so I just told her to aim for a particular road and she drove straight for it! Years later, we still recall that day and neither of us can work out if she drove the correct way around the roundabout or not....

Ron Colyer
An excellent solution for this type of complex intersection and it works really well.

Andrew Lye
I was born and brought up in Wiltshire and the few times I have driven over the Magic Roundabout, you approach it with some apprehension, but my logic is to see where I want to go and then aim for it, keeping a close eye on traffic coming from the right. As you are going slow, it makes it safe, so I do not see what the problem is, that people have with it.Drive with care and you'll get there!

Joe Paycheck Seattle WA
I always liked it.Whenever I was asked for directions by a "lost, non-Swindon-resident motorist", I always sent them "via the Magic-Round-About", regardless of where they were going or coming from.I still wonder if some of them ever got to where they were going?

Ron Zoldak
I'm an American who moved to Swindon and it took me so long before I had the nerve to use it, but it does work

Cheryl, Swindon
I moved to Swindon 5 years ago having never heard of the 'Magic Roundabout' but a few locals quickly brought it to my attention. We are quite proud of it here - the advice I was given was 'close your eyes and drive straight ahead', which appears to work most of the time LOL. It's just a lot of little roundabouts, as long as you take each one in turn only bad drivers should have a problem navigating it!

Alison Smith
In the late '80's, I got my first job in Swindon at the WH Smith head office in Greenbridge. As I lived near the railway village, I often had to travel across the Magic Roundabout to get to work. I also had to navigate it during driving lessons. I'd agree there is definitely a weird logic to it. As with a lot of things in life, if you know what you're doing and look as though you do, you can get across it safely. There was a theory doing the rounds at that time that it was designed by transport officers along the lines of the rings made by their coffee cups on the road maps they were using. Probably not true but a nice urban myth anyway!

maggie -ex resident of Swindon
I think the magic roundabout is MAGIC- always was- always will be!! Never been a serious accident on it ever!!!!! Its the one thing I really miss about Swindon

Atleast spell Alfa Romeo right collin....and yes, these junctions are dangerous, but only due to peoples' poor awareness and driving ability.

One of the most simplest roundabout to negotiate, unless of course you were the driver of the car full of Milwall supporters going round and round back in 1982 - funniest thing I ever saw!!

D. Wragg.
this is typical of many road plans dreamed up these days. ok for locals but another b..... nightmare for the poor visitor. i live in stockport cheshire home of the infamous junction 25 on the m60.drivers joining the m60 from the a560 heading north find themselves in what has become the outside lane of the motorway! fantastic.

Colin Harris
The comment above seems to be made by someone who just likes to make comments for comments sake and is not related to the debate in question. I bet he is a Alfa Romero driver - no idea!

Jamie Silk
Just seen at least 2 cars/lorrys not give way. I see that driving hasn't changed then.

Alan Powning
I recall that when it was being set out, the engineers had an open top double decker bus with people from the Road Research Laboratory on the top floor. The would observe the traffic and then go downstairs to adjust the tyres that were used to set out the roundabouts and then go upstairs again to see if the traffic movement had improved. Thus they managed to get an optimum design.

Tracy Thackrah
i had my first driving lesson on the magic roundabout, i went the wrong way into triffic and stalled, then cried in panic. 2 years on i think its great and i think we need more magic rounabouts in the uk.

i was once talking to an american in Spain, in a bar in an off the beaten track sort of place, when he asked me where was I from in England, when I said Swindon.. his first word to me were " You mean the Magic Roundabout Town" It turned out he had done a stint at RAF Fairford in the 80's and that was the main thing he remembered about Swindon

Isambard Clueless Brunel
Isnt it great how there were roundabouts back in the old days before cars and now we have cars and we can use the roads they had there before cars. personally I dont have a car because I cant afford a car and I dont like cars but if I did im glad its not like the olden days before we had cars. . . . whats a roundabout?

i fell my fff test for the stupid magic roan about

Chrtis Davies
I would prefer more magic roundabouts then lights. Seams road planners are lazy these days defaulting to lights which hold everyone up!

I've been all over England from Swindon and whenever I mention Swindon anywhere all I get - "Oh, yeah, the magic roundabout", not the best landmark in the world but one I wouldn't like to see go!

Charlote Williams (Trowbridge)
The Magic roundabout is harder than normal roundabouts but easy, it is just that some drivers can be thoughtless which then makes it havoc, to go round....

stan garner
Anyone who can remember the days of long ago when that roundabout and all the streets leading to it were in total chaos and gridlock every rush hour will be please that this magic roundabout has eliminated that problem.Ther is nothing wrong with the roundabout if you approach it properly and follow the very simple throughput

I love the Magic Roundabout and find it a great deal easier to negotiate than most, if not all, of Swindon`s `ordinary` roundabouts. Now that I have said this no doubt I shall have problems next time I pass through it !!! My advice to those who are frightened of it is to simply obey the rules of the road ie give way to traffic on the right BUT watch out for Learner Drivers and `newcomers`.

Mark D
Comparing the huge volume of traffic using the roundabout to the tiny amount of accidents that occur on it just proves that it is a work of genius.

David Kennedy
Ah, how I miss the Magic Roundabout! Nothing like flying across it on a motorbike and seeing the look of horror on all the other drivers who were unfamiliar with it! Us Moonrakers should be justly proud of it. Long may it reign!

Clare Davies
The Magic Roundabout is wonderful, easy to use and works perfectly. Maybe every town should have one. Much better then busy junctions being made unbearable by the use of traffic lights.


Andy Mc
I live in Swindon and drive over County Roundabout (or the Magic Roundabout as it's more commonly known). It is brilliant!! From whichever direction you are approaching it, you've normally got a few seconds in which to pick what you think will be the quietest/quickest route across it - there are so many permutations for getting across it. Even at the height of rush hour, the roundabout flows magnificently - in addition, I have never, ever seen an accident on it. I would advise everyone who is visitng Swindon to make a point of driving across it - do it once and you'll realise how good it is.

Kim Graham
I advise using the magic roundabout as 1 huge roundabout and go around the outside

Jenni Moseling
I used to go through the Magic Roundabout every day on my way to work. If the middle is blocked you simply have to look ahead and go all the way around the outside. It works terrifically well and long may it remain. A piece of sound road engineering!

paul lawrence
my dad took me across it in only my second time behind the wheel of a car when learning to drive. its a roundabout not rocket science.

maggi brown
How many drivers I wonder ever had to negotiate the magic roundabout as I did - with a snapped clutch cable - in Swindon - and a son waiting to be picked up from playschool - in Cirencester. I could have wimped out, and got a taxi, but that would have left me stuck with the car in Swindon, and a family in Cirencester. So I did what any strong minded woman would do - drove home. This meant - to those uninitiated with the snapped clutch cable syndrome - that when you stop, you have to turn off the engine, (one cannot change gear, no clutch cable see). And when one wishes to start, then one rams the car into 1st gear, and starts the engine, and GOES..... And on the magic roundabout.....I'm sure the lorry driver who was behind me still tells the story of this mad woman, who stopped at every mini-roundabout, switched off her engine, then switched it on again and ripped forward like a bat out of hell. Such is life in the fast lane girls.

Dave Wallis
The only people who dislike or ridicule the Magic Roundabout are those who don't understand it.

mark edginton
i see there is no change in driving knowledge from the 70's with people still getting cut up by silly drivers who dont have a clue on how to use a roundabout!!

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