Your browser is no longer supported

For the best possible experience using our website we recommend you upgrade to a newer version or another browser.

Your browser appears to have cookies disabled. For the best experience of this website, please enable cookies in your browser

We'll assume we have your consent to use cookies, for example so you won't need to log in each time you visit our site.
Learn more

Debate Roundabouts

According to the Highways Agency, most road deaths occur on single carriageway rural roads, where traffic lights are often the preferred solution over the safer at grade option.

This week we ask: Should local authorities be planning to build more roundabouts on rural roads?


Andrew Howard, head of road safety motoring policy, the Automobile Association

People die on the roads in four main ways - being hit as pedestrians; in head-on collisions; in impacts with roadside objects like trees; and in brutal side impacts at junctions. Around 60% of people who die on the roads are killed outside built-up areas, mostly on main single carriageway roads. We cannot deliver Britain's national road safety strategy - a 40% reduction in death and serious injury - without mass action where people are dying.

Britain has a problem with junctions on both single and dual carriageways. For example, the new European Road Assessment Programme (EuroRAP) shows Britain has a death rate twice as high on its dual carriageways without split level junctions.

Traffic signals on high speed single and dual carriageway roads kill because death is built into the design. Sooner or later a vehicle will go through a red light and be hit fatally hard, simple human error resulting in a death sentence. Signals on high speed roads breech the fundamental law of safe design that routine human error must not result in an unsurvivable, uncushioned impact above 25mph.

People do not die at properly designed roundabout with the correct deflections. No-one, for example, has yet died at one of Sweden's modern roundabout designs. Vehicles are slowed down so that vicious side impacts are replaced by nose to tail accidents or glancing blows which the vehicle's safety cage is designed to absorb.

The primary aim of national and European policy is to stop accidents that kill and maim - even at the price of a few more cautionary bumps.

Vehicle engineers have achieved soaring crash protection scores since the EuroNCAP crash tests started. These tests reveal the detailed injuries to drivers, passengers, pedestrians and children - summarised in simple star ratings for the consumer.

Some 80% of Britain's local authorities say they can save a life for £100,000 or less. We need systematic mass action programmes that implement known safe design and crash protection measures. Removing traffic signals on high speed roads where people are dying is just a start.


David Taylor, Alan Baxter Associates

Historically, rural communities grew in places of topographic advantage, resource and most importantly strategic 'crossing' which generated and sustained cultural interaction and economic transaction. This notion of crossing - physical and cultural - was the basis of 'placemaking' in both town and country.

Woefully, our 20th century mindset has rendered us insensitive to this sense of spatial identity for all movement other than the free flow of the automobile.

Is the cyclist attributed any autonomy other than vertigo and grazes? Is it really possible to cross a roundabout on foot?

We are unfortunately perpetuating the loss of qualitative content and joy from our environment through the way we manage our traffic. Principles from the mid 20th century of segregation of traffic and pedestrians still pervade our thinking and formulation. In the rural context, societal interaction is now disregarded; it is the safety of vehicles and the consequent reduction of interaction (accidents) that pervades!

Why then are roundabouts so popular? The simple answer is that they reduce vehicle conflict, have low maintenance, are selfenforcing for speed control, and, above all, allow for the free flow of traffic. However, as a consequence of these very issues, roundabouts denigrate - in fact irrevocably suppress - the human content from the public realm and thereby greatly compromise qualitative and cultural attributes. If anything they reinforce the sense of ownership of places for cars rather than people! They are pedestrian unfriendly. They have a high land take. Their geometry destroys urban form in all but the largest of places.

Crossroads, traffic managed junctions and lights are more compatible and sensitive to human movement, streets and spaces. These are easier to integrate alongside pedestrian movement and cyclists. Furthermore these can be less invasive to the existing urban / rural landscape and can therefore reinforce a sense of 'place'.

Now is the time to relegate roundabouts and inanimate settings to where people do not tread - to motorways - and all but the most remote of places.

The facts In 2001, 3,443 people died on UK roads - slightly up on previous years.

Roundabouts are claimed to have long term maintenance costs only one third of those associated with traffic signal controlled junctions, and to cause less delay to traffic flows.

Have your say

You must sign in to make a comment

Please remember that the submission of any material is governed by our Terms and Conditions and by submitting material you confirm your agreement to these Terms and Conditions. Please note comments made online may also be published in the print edition of New Civil Engineer. Links may be included in your comments but HTML is not permitted.