Road signs in Britain closely follow international norms as laid out in the Vienna Convention on Road Signs and Signals. Where possible, language-independent symbolic signs are used so as to be as universally understood as possible. (Article contributed by Martin Ward).
Road signs in Wales are bilingual, but, because there is no international symbol for “yard”, simple distance signs have to be spelled out in two languages.
Signs like these would be clearer to everyone if distances were given in metres (using the internationally recognised “m” symbol) e.g. “100 m” instead of “110 yds / 110 llath”.
Britain is the only country in the world that uses yards on road signs – our American cousins show distances in feet. Britain is also the only country not to authorise the use of metres for distance signs on public roads, yet we are all familiar with 100 m races in athletics.
The fact that one metre is approximately equal to one yard is universally understood by the public. The Department for Transport uses this fact when it specifies that temporary road works signs be set up at multiples of 100 metres, yet, because metres are not on the list of authorised units, instructs that the distances be shown as multiples of 100 yards.
Location markers at the sides of motorways and major A-roads have been placed at intervals of 100 metres for decades. Yet, more than 30 years after metres were introduced to road signs in the form of height and width restrictions, the Government has still not taken the simple obvious step of allowing the metre to replace the yard on distance road signs.
Allowing all new and replacement signs, that would have used yards, to show distances in metres instead would cause no confusion and would cost nothing. Indeed, taxpayers money would be saved in Wales where the signs would not need to be so large. Costs will also be saved when the inevitable switchover to completely metric road signs finally arrives, as there will be fewer signs needing to be upgraded.