Magic Roundabout in Swindon: The Most Confusing Traffic Junction

Jun 22, 2012 5 comments

The Magic Roundabout in Swindon, England, constructed in 1972, is the most brilliant and at the same time, the most confusing roundabout ever built. The roundabout, named after the popular children's television series by the same name, is located near the County Ground and consists of five mini-roundabouts arranged in a circle. At first sight, it might appear to confuse or amuse new visitors and certainly baffle tourists but once you understand how the roundabout works you will realize how revolutionary the idea is.

Before the roundabout was built, the area had been a motorist's nightmare which routinely failed to handle the volume of traffic which converged on it from five directions. The British Transport and Road Research Laboratory then came up with a brilliant solution.

All they did was combine two roundabouts in one - the first roundabout sends traffic rotating clockwise and the second roundabout, which revolves inside the first, sends traffic anti-clockwise. Vehicles can enter or exit the inner roundabout using any of the five mini roundabouts placed at appropriate positions. The Magic Roundabout is so efficient that the average Swindonian can find his or her passage through one of the town's busiest junctions with ease even at peak times. Forty years on, the Magic Roundabout still works, despite ever-increasing volumes of traffic.


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PC Steve Dudley, one of the police officers involved with the introduction of the new system, recalled: "There was someone from the RRL up on a crane and officers on each of the five junctions. We would let the traffic build up and then let one lot go at a time. After a few trial runs we let the whole lot go at once. It was quite nerve-racking, but it did work."

Despite the efficiency of the system, the Magic Roundabout still strikes terror into visiting motorists. It was voted the worst roundabout in a survey by a UK insurance company in 2005, and again in 2007, this time by a UK motoring magazine. In December 2007, BBC News reported a survey identifying The Magic Roundabout as one of the "10 Scariest Junctions in the United Kingdom".

But figures speaks for themselves: during the first 25 years, there were only 14 serious accidents and just over a hundred lesser ones – a rate that is far less than one would expect for such a busy junction. Most accidents involved cyclists and motorcyclists and now a cycle lane running right round the outside of the roundabout, with pelican crossings, have been put into place. Although it looks intimidating, statistically, the Magic Roundabout is one of the safest traffic junctions.


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Schematic of the Magic Roundabout. Photo credit


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Photo credit: Google Earth


Photo credit: Google Earth

Sources: Wikipedia, Swindonweb


  1. This doesn't look very confusing: it's just a series of roundabouts. This is confusing:

  2. Hmm.. the Heetmanplein or whatever it's called looks pretty straightforward to me. Each lane takes you to a different direction. You just have to choose the correct lane.

    The Magic Roundabout looks confusing because of the 5 mini roundabouts. But, yeah, to each his own.

  3. As someone who is used to driving on the right instead of the left, I would avoid this thing if I had a choice at all. - Even if it were "drive to the right." I found that I did well in the UK as long as I could see oncoming traffic. The multi-circle roundabout(s) at an "M" interchange near Warwick (I think it was.) was not too bad. Locals would be used to this, tourists would not.

  4. A video of autos going through the Magic Roundabout, seen from above, would enhance the experience.

  5. Roundabouts are proven to be far superior that the 4-way stop system utilized in north America. They allow more cars through per hour and since the cars don't have to come to a stop as often, this reduces the amount of accelerating a car must do thus improving economy as well. Thankfully planners in Canada have realized this and are installing more roundabouts.


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