Dutch-style roundabouts are gradually being introduced in the UK – but new research from the Netherlands has found that roundabouts in general, and not just ones designed specifically for cyclists, are becoming increasingly unsafe for people on bikes, with a rise in collisions at them attributed to greater complexity not only in the design of such junctions, but also the means people use to navigate them.
Road safety expert Erik Donkers of the traffic consultancy VIA examined all reported collisions involving cyclists in the Netherlands between 2014 and 2021, and discovered that roundabouts especially were less safe for people on bikes than previously assumed, reports Het Parool.
Nearly one in eight reported road traffic collisions, 12 per cent, involving someone riding a pedal cycle or an e-bike happened at a roundabout, although they only account for 0.6 per cent of the country’s 575,000 junctions.
“The bicycle has been experiencing a revival in recent years,” he said. “There are a lot of cyclists and different types of cyclists – from e-bikes to cargo bikes, racing bikes and speed pedelecs.”
And it is that mix of different kinds of bikes, and especially the speed differential between a traditional bicycle and an e-bike, that Donkers says explains why roundabouts are becoming increasingly hazardous for people on two wheels, in part because motorists now find it more difficult to judge their speed.
“A roundabout is more complicated anyway,” he said. “As a road user you have four conflict points. If a car hits a bicycle on a roundabout, even at low speed, things quickly go wrong.”
He believes that cyclists need more protection – 150 cyclists are killed in the Netherlands each year, accounting for one in four road deaths – but says the solution lies in changing current rules regarding priority at roundabouts, which currently favour those on bicycles.
“Reversing the right of way gives the cyclist more responsibility and possibly prevents a false sense of safety,” he said, adding that in some municipalities that was already the case.
The Dutch national cyclists’ organisation, Fietsersbond, said that inconsistency in who has priority at roundabouts, depending on the municipality did not help the situation.
“In some local councils cars have priority and in others it’s cyclists. That is confusing,” a spokesperson said.
In common with a number of other European countries – notably, France – the Netherlands has witnessed an explosion in the number of roundabouts in recent years.
At the turn of the Millennium, there were between 1,500 to 1,800 in the country but now, a little more than two decades later, that has risen more than threefold to nearly 5,600.
Not everyone is in agreement with Donkers, however. Traffic engineer Robert Louwerse of the Foundation for Road Safety Research (SWOV) said earlier this year: “The roundabout is the very best invention ever in infrastructure. If you convert an intersection into a roundabout, the number of accidents decreases by 70 percent. They are proven to be safer.”
But Donkers insisted: “Empirical research shows that the road safety of cyclists at intersections – especially on roundabouts – is a problem.”
The world’s first roundabout, according to Het Parool? The Circus in Bath, dating back to 1768 – and which happens to be a couple of doors along from road.cc’s first home back when the site was founded in 2008.
Simon joined road.cc as news editor in 2009 and is now the site’s community editor, acting as a link between the team producing the content and our readers. A law and languages graduate, published translator and former retail analyst, he has reported on issues as diverse as cycling-related court cases, anti-doping investigations, the latest developments in the bike industry and the sport’s biggest races. Now back in London full-time after 15 years living in Oxford and Cambridge, he loves cycling along the Thames but misses having his former riding buddy, Elodie the miniature schnauzer, in the basket in front of him.