The UK Metric Association dismissed as “unrepresentative and old hat” the findings of an AA/Populus panel, showing that a large majority of AA members are opposed to metric road signs in the UK. (This press release was issued for use after 00:01 on Saturday, 2 August 2008).
UKMA Chairman, Robin Paice, said: “It is no surprise that a self-selected group of 18 500 AA members should not appreciate the case for going metric on the roads, especially when the Government has produced absurdly exaggerated cost figures to try to stifle discussion. The case for metric road signs has never been properly explained to the general public.”
(It appears that over 21 000 out of 40 000 panel members did not respond to the survey).
The UK decided to go metric in 1965 (long before our entry into the then Common Market) with a target of completion by 1975. Road signs were originally to be converted in 1973. However, in 1970, the Government postponed the road signs changeover, and it has never been reinstated.
Metrication continued in most other areas, including maths and science teaching in schools, the building and engineering industries, packaging, retailing (including litres for petrol sales) and some sports. Apart from pints for draught beer and doorstep milk, the major exception remains road signs.
As a result, the UK is stuck half way through a conversion process, and the Government has said it has no plans to sort out the resulting muddle.
UKMA’s case for metric road signs
UKMA published “Metric signs ahead”* in 2006, arguing the case for metric road signs. Here is an extract from its executive summary.
- “The primary and overriding reason for extending the process of metric conversion to road signage is that it will enable the UK at last to enjoy a single system of measurement which is understood and used by everyone for all purposes – thus making it unnecessary for British people to be fluent with two very different and incompatible systems of measurement
- A second reason is that it would provide drivers with consistent information in one single, easy system of units
- Thirdly, a single set of units would be efficient for mapmakers, surveyors, engineers, motor manufacturers and contractors who build and maintain the UK’s road infrastructure
- Furthermore, there are many other reasons why it would be beneficial to complete the changeover as soon as possible, including:
It would possible easily to calculate fuel consumption and engine efficiency.
Speed limits could be reviewed and adjusted more sensitively according to local road conditions.
Drivers visiting the UK could drive more safely.
Signposting would be compatible with Ordnance Survey maps”
At the time UKMA’s best estimate of the cost was Â£80 million, assuming that speed limit signs were changed over 2 â?? 3 days, while distance signs were changed over 5 years.
The Department for Transport indicated it had no intention of converting road signs, claiming the cost as £700 millions for an immediate change of 500 000 signs. (This works out at £1400 per sign, although when the Irish changed in 2005, the average cost of new and replacement speed limit signs was £100. Talk about gold plating!)
A particular problem with current mess is that of bridge strikes, many of which are by foreign HGV drivers who do not understand imperial measurements. These cost many millions of pounds per year, as well as delays to road and rail users. Both the police and Network Rail have called for dual metric and imperial signs for all low bridges – yet the Department for Transport insists that metric signs should be optional.
Robin Paice added: â??Every country needs a system of weights and measures that everybody understands and uses for all purposes. Nobody needs two systems. It is untenable that road signs can remain indefinitely a stand alone system separate from the rest of society.â??
Notes for editors
(a)The UK Metric Association (UKMA) is an independent, non-party political, single issue organisation which advocates the full adoption of the international metric system (“Syst¨me International” – SI) for all official, trade, legal, contractual and other purposes in the United Kingdom as soon as practicable. UKMA is financed entirely by membership subscriptions and personal donations.
(b)Further extensive background information can be found generally on UKMA’s website at www.ukma.org.uk .
(c)*A free downloadable electronic version of “Metric signs ahead” is available to bona fide journalists
(d)The Chairman of UKMA is available for interviews.
(e)Please note that the correct symbol for “kilometres per hour” is “km/h” (as on vehicle instrument panels) – not the little understood “kph”.