The Government’s reluctance to consider decimal measurement of distance on UK roads ignores a successful precedent at sea. (Article submitted by Derek Pollard).
It is often overlooked that the Romans introduced decimal measurement of distance to Britain. The Roman passus was the length of a double pace, left-right-left, and 1000 passus, or mille passus or gave us the mile. By the middle ages, this simple system had given way to one involving factors other than 10, such as 3, 8 and 22. And some of this medieval muddle was retained in 1824 when Parliament took a close look at weights and measures, and gave us the system that may be familiar to the older generation.
Long before this, sailors had realised that they needed something simple, and were not constrained by factors such as the distance a team of oxen could plough before needing a rest. So they came up with a more rational system of measurement.
Take a base unit of length (the fathom), have 100 of these in your next unit (the cable), and 10 of these in your largest unit (the nautical mile, although not the current international nautical mile). For speed, use your largest unit per hour, that is a nautical mile per hour or knot.
Such a simple system, but using the metre not the fathom as the base unit of length, has been rejected for the UK’s roads by successive Governments over the last 35 years. One wonders why. The principle, after all, served the Royal Navy well, and thereby the people of these islands, over several centuries.