If you’ve ever seen that Steve Martin movie, LA Story, you will remember the opening scene that will forever expose the folly of the 4-way Stop Sign that is prevalent in America. Four cars each pull up to their respective junction. No one moves because no one knows who should go first. Eventually, they all move simultaneously and crash in to each other.
Not so with the glorious roundabout in the UK. Although ironically, now I think about it, it was at a roundabout where I had one of my early driving prangs. The guy in front of me looked like he was going to join the roundabout and then suddenly changed his mind. I on the other hand, had no such hesitation but consequently went in to the back of his car. Thankfully, no real damage was done.
Recently however, I have to come to realise how utterly crucial the principle of the roundabout really is in the grand scheme of things. So long as people keep moving as soon as there is a break in the traffic moving around the roundabout, everyone is happy.
Think about what would very quickly happen if everyone (like my ‘prang partner’ of more than thirty years ago) took to a mild dose of fear or even worse, chronic caution – you know the kind of drivers who don’t venture out of any junction, let alone a roundabout, until there are no other cars in sight for at least half a mile – everyone would grind to a total halt!
So, let’s make it a bit more personal. Imagine for a minute, that your life is like a roundabout. All the while you keep getting on the roundabout, doing what you do, day in, day out, you are by definition, allowing others to do what they need to do. Some are best friends, family members, while others are complete strangers.
But it doesn’t really matter who they are. The point is, if you keep moving forward (or for some of the time at least, going round and round) they get to keep moving also.
This is especially highlighted at the mini-roundabout. As soon as you in your car pull out and join the roundabout, the car that has been patiently waiting at the junction that is immediately to your right (anti-clockwise) gets an opportunity to move.
If there is a steady stream of traffic to their right (more anti-clockwise) the only way they get to move forwards is if you move forwards and on to the roundabout.
I love that principle and this is why roundabouts will always be better, more efficient feats of motoring engineering than the 4-way Stop Sign.
Unless of course, you live in Paris, where many years ago, I had one of the most exhilarating driving experiences of my life, simply driving around and around the Arc de Triomphe, where the traffic entering the giant roundabout has priority.
I must re-visit it and come up with something completely different to say about that!