The Department for Transport (DfT) continues to ignore the clear advantages of the adoption of the international norms for road signage, namely the use of metric units, while potentially preventable accidents occur on our roads.
The UK is signatory to an international road safety convention which requires metres to be used on width, height and length restriction signs, and yetÂ theÂ GovernmentÂ refuses toÂ bring this requirement intoÂ UK regulations.
Last month a lorry from the continent was driven through a width restriction in London, rupturing its fuel tank. This caused a reported Â£100,000 damage to the highway, which had to be resurfaced as a result of the accident. It appears that the driver had failed to understand a sign showing >7′-0″<. It has also been reported on many occasionsÂ that vehicles haveÂ have struck railway bridges because their drivers did not understand the imperial height limit signs.Â British drivers of large vehicles also need to know their vehicles’ dimensions in metres as well as in feet in order to negotiate private goods yards signed in metres and also to operateÂ in the Republic of IrelandÂ and on the continent. SoÂ it is no wonder thatÂ so many lorryÂ drivers are having problems.
These incidents carry a heavy cost to the British taxpayer, insurance companies and the users of disrupted road and rail networks. Yet the addition of metric measurements on height and width restriction signs wouldÂ incur a comparatively small cost if carried out over a reasonable period of time.
The UK is a signatory of the Vienna Convention on Road Traffic andÂ the European agreement which supplements the Convention,Â both of which are aimed at achieving greater uniformity in the rules governing road traffic in Europe. They establish road safety standards,Â providing Governments with a harmonised legal and technical basis for their national highway codes and ensuring a high level of road safety in the countries that implement them.
The Convention has, since 1993, permitted only metres to be used for the signage of vehicle restriction signs for length, width and height. In recognition of this, the UK’s traffic sign regulations were altered to permit the use of metres on such signs.
Sadly, the UK has failed to implement in full the signing conventions. It is committed to requiring metres to be used on vehicle dimension signs, yet instead itÂ has left each local highway authority to decide whether it will use metres in addition toÂ imperial units. The Traffic Signs Manual Chapter 4 of 2004 states that signs in metres should be used â??on main routes and on roads used frequently by foreign driversâ?? without giving guidance as to what constitutes â??frequent useâ??, let alone explaining the flawed logic which suggests that foreign drivers on main roads can’t be expected to understand signs in feet whereas as soon as they turn off a main road they can. The use of satnavÂ has also made “frequent use by foreign drivers”Â more difficult to predict.
The DfT has arguedÂ in recent yearsÂ that the UK can not affordÂ metric road signs, and appears unwilling to reconsider, even when there is an international obligation to provide such signs and it can be shown that this would be cost effective.