Yesterday, the National Audit Office (NAO) criticised the UK Department for Transport (DfT) for its unfounded claims about the benefits of the proposed high speed rail project HS2. In this article, Ronnie Cohen identifies another unfounded claim by the DfT – one that relates to the change to metric units on road signs.
The DfT regularly claims that policy is “evidence based”, and one such claim is that drivers who have not received metric education at school would be confused by a change to metric units on road traffic signs (Parliamentary Written Answer, 11 July 2002, Hansard, Col 1116w). However, other countries’ experience of the metric changeover suggests that such confusion is not a significant problem.
With this in mind, Ronnie Cohen recently made a Freedom of Information (FoI) request to the DfT. In his FoI request, he asked what evidence there is to support the claim that older drivers might be confused by metric units. This is the response (DfT reference: GT51/2/2/F0010060) dated 13 May 2013:
“Dear Mr Cohen
Freedom of Information Act Request F0010060
Thank you for your information request of 17 April about older drivers who might be confused by the use of metric measurement. You referred to a Parliamentary Written Answer dated 11 July 2002 which explained the Department’s (“the DfT”) view on the use of metric measurement on traffic signs and asked the following questions which I have numbered for clarity –
1. How many drivers have been confused by metric-only private sector restriction signs and what were the consequences of such confusion?
2. I would be interested to know what research the DfT has done on this issue and whether the DfT has published any papers about it.
3. Does the DfT have any other evidence to support this claim that old drivers might be confused by metric-only signs?
Your three numbered requests have been considered under the Freedom of Information Act 2000 (“the FOI Act”).
With regard to question 1, I am writing to advise you that following a search of our paper and electronic records, I have established that the information you requested is not held.
As to question 2, I can confirm that the DfT has not done any research on this specific issue; therefore we have not published any papers about it.
In answer to question 3, again this information is not held.
In keeping with the spirit and effect of the FOI Act, all information is assumed to be releasable to the public unless exempt. A copy of this response and the information provided may now be published on our website together with any related information that will provide a key to its wider context.
Traffic Management Division
Department for Transport”
We should like to thank the DfT for the clarity and speed of its response.
Having seen the NAO report on the proposed high speed rail project, Margaret Hodge, chairwoman of the Public Accounts Committee, said the business case for HS2 was “clearly not up to scratch”. This echoes UKMA’s view on the case for retaining imperial road signs in an otherwise largely metric economy. And if an illustration of the weakness of that case is required, then we need to look no further than the DfT’s view on “driver confusion”.