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Last Updated: Tuesday, 2 November, 2004, 09:43 GMT
Roundabout magic
Clive Greenaway
Clive Greenaway in a boat on a roundabout

By Giles Turnbull

Last week a relief road was named as one of Britain's best public buildings. It's not just the roads that get passions high, however. Meet the Roundabout Appreciation Society.

Are you a Dillon?

Failing that, you might be a False-start Florence. Or just a Zebedee.

Whatever your behaviour when you drive round a British roundabout, a group of roundabout enthusiasts have a name for you, culled from the characters of the classic Magic Roundabout TV series.

The secretive Roundabout Appreciation Society meets in and around Poole in Dorset. Members get together to discuss roundabout architecture, design, safety features and wildlife.

Roundabouts are twice as safe because they are usually slower, and the collisions are rarely head-on
Clive Greenaway

But recently they've been thinking about the way people drive. Clive Greenaway, officially one of Britain's best drivers (he's passed every driving test it's possible to take) and a driving instructor with 25 years' experience, says that being aware of how other drivers treat roundabouts can be a big help to learners.

"At roundabouts, you have to watch out for different kinds of drivers," he says.

Bad characters

"You've got the False-Start Florences, who inch forward a bit but don't make the decision to pull out completely. The person behind them assumes they are going to go further, so accelerates and goes straight into the back of them.

"Roundabouts are designed by engineers so that there's a clear view of the traffic coming from the right. It should be easy to see if there's enough time to pull out, or not."

But the Florences are by no means the only bad characters on our nation's roundabouts. Members of the society have come up with more nicknames.

Magic Roundabout
Sir Ian McKellen is to be one of the voices in a film of the Magic Roundabout
"There's the Zebedees, who bounce straight across some roundabouts. They don't use their mirrors properly.

"Also there's the Dillons, who drive straight into the middle of a roundabout because they didn't see it coming."

It all sounds terribly flippant, but Clive and his roundabout-obsessed friends have some serious points to make about the UK's 10,000 roundabouts.

Traffic flow

Roundabout-style junctions were first used in France in the 1870s, but Clive says the first recognisable modern roundabout was New York's Columbus Circle, opened in 1905.

There were problems from the start, because people went round it any way they liked. But it remains in place to this day, as Manhattan's only roundabout ("traffic circle" to our US cousins).

The first roundabout in the UK appeared in the Garden City of Letchworth five years later. It was intended to help pedestrians more than motorists - with cars getting faster and more numerous, too many people were getting stuck in the middle of the road as they tried to cross. Twenty years later, it was decided to make all traffic navigate roundabouts in the same direction.

Traffic circles were considered a disastrous failure in the US, but roundabouts continued to be popular in Europe, especially Britain.

Clive believes this is hardly surprising, because overall, they are safer junctions.

Roundabouts have put the motorist at the top of the tree - pedestrians don't seem to be so important anymore
Clive Greenaway
"Roundabouts are generally much safer than crossroads. At crossroads you get head-on collisions and people get killed. Roundabouts are twice as safe because they are usually slower, and the collisions are rarely head-on."

The growth of mini-roundabouts has caused some problems, though, with some drivers ignoring the road markings and driving straight across. The society has something to say about that, too.

"At our last meeting, some members thought that a small trench should be dug around mini roundabouts to stop people driving over them. People need to slow down and go round roundabouts, even the mini ones," Clive says.

Good and bad

Ultimately, all the Roundabout Appreciation Society wants to do is promote safe and considerate driving.

"We want drivers to be more tolerant when they see visitors and foreign drivers getting in the wrong lane at roundabouts, or pulling out on the wrong side of the road," says Clive.

"We think that rather than sounding your horn, you should give these people a little bit of extra room."

So how does an enthusiast tell the difference between a good roundabout and a bad one?

The secret lies in how well it's maintained. A shabby roundabout is a poor reflection on local people and local pride, according to Clive.

"There are some beautiful roundabouts with sculptures, flower beds or interesting plants. Anything that makes the drivers slow down at junctions is a good thing.

"Some roundabouts are very cleverly designed. There's foliage in the centre but it has gaps in it so that drivers can see through to the other side. Their eyes take in the plants, but also the oncoming traffic. Drivers don't realise it, but they can be controlled in this way by the roundabout designers."

The society members take their roundabouts very seriously, but their thoughts have recently turned to other aspects of road safety, especially that of pedestrians.

Clive puts it bluntly:

"These days, roundabouts have put the motorist at the top of the tree. Pedestrians don't seem to be so important anymore. We're thinking of starting up the Zebra Crossing Protection Society, because they seem to be disappearing too."


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