Minor success for UKMA – imperial-only height and width signs to be discontinued

The Department for Transport (DfT) has announced a tiny but significant piece of progress on the long road to completing metrication in the UK.

On Saturday 8 November the DfT published its response to the consultation on revisions to the Traffic Signs Regulations and General Directions due to come into force in 2015. This was much as predicted since it broadly followed consultations with the industry over the previous year.  However, a major surprise is that Ministers have finally agreed that the time has come to phase out imperial-only signs for vehicle height and width restrictions.  Consequently, from April 2015 any new or replacement signs will have to show both metric and imperial units.

UKMA had strongly argued for this change and claims at least some of the credit for this minor success.

The background is that dual unit signs have been available since the early 1990s (at least), and the DfT has strongly recommended their use in preference to the imperial-only versions – but has always shied away from making them mandatory.  As a result backward highway authorities have continued to instal new imperial-only signs.

In 2009 the previous Government proposed to make the replacement of such signs with the dual version a requirement within four years, and this received broad support within the industry.  At the time they produced cost/benefit estimates showing a £2 million benefit over 10 years.  However, the incoming Government cancelled the proposal, declaring it to be a waste of money.

The TSRGD was due for revision in 2015, and following informal consultations, the DfT launched a public consultation, declaring that measurement units were “out of scope.”  Nevertheless, UKMA in its submission argued that the deletion of the imperial-only height and width signs should be “in scope” since, the dual unit signs already existed, and there was no change in the units themselves.  UKMA also lobbied other stakeholders, and it appears that this campaign has borne fruit.  UKMA’s submission can be read at this link.

The DfT has now produced its response to this consultation (see this link).  At the very end, almost as a throwaway afterthought, the document concludes:

“Other issues

14.1  In order to improve road safety and compliance, ministers have decided that the revised TSRGD will no longer prescribe imperial-only height and width limit signs. Imperial only signs can remain in place only until such time that they become life-expired, or replaced during routine maintenance, at which time the dual-unit equivalent must be used.”

Of course, the devil will be in the detail, and we shall have to see exactly how this is implemented.  Particularly important will be temporary width restriction signs at road works and contraflows, where it is imperative the Continental HGV drivers are aware that they are banned from the narrow lanes.  The Highways Agency has hitherto ignored the DfT advice to use dual unit signs and one frequently still sees imperial-only signs – even on major roads to and from ferry ports.

Nevertheless, it would be churlish not to compliment the DfT on finally agreeing to the inevitable.  Perhaps the next Government will take the obvious further step of of setting a time limit for the remaining imperial-only signs to be replaced.



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41 Responses to Minor success for UKMA – imperial-only height and width signs to be discontinued

  1. Ezra Steinberg says:

    A huge tip of the hat to UKMA from this side of The Pond for this success with DfT.

    Well done! 🙂

  2. Ed the yank says:

    Congratulations! This piece of legislation is a major accomplishment. It will certainty reduce accidents.

  3. Jake says:

    I am very pleased to see this development and UKMA can certainly take some of the credit for it. The organisation has always put forward very powerful arguments and displayed clear and concise thinking on the issue of road signs and measurement in general. Nevertheless I do hope to see the day when Britain realises that there is no need for imperial units on its road signs at all since most people have learnt metric units at school. I am sure that day will come sooner rather than later as a result of this latest development.

  4. John Steele says:

    I think this is more than a "minor" success; metric is primary and required on height and width signs going forward vs the present "allowed but not much used." Kudos to UKMA for their role in pushing this. Of course a "huge" success would have been metric standing alone, no Imperial.

    You may wish to start the conversation with officials about the dual use of "m," being metres on height and width signs, and miles on distance signs. The US uses "mi" where miles must be abbreviated (most sign formats spell it, however). Changing the abbreviation for miles to "mi" would help with any confusion that does occur.

    After ARM gets over their metric shock, perhaps they could start painting an "i" on all the miles signs. I assume their vandalism of signs with metric will no longer be tolerated.

  5. Steve says:

    erm - but the imperial remains?

  6. Charlie says:

    Whilst this is very welcome news from a safety point of view, one thing I would personally quite like to see on metric height and width restriction signs, is a second digit after the decimal. At the end of my road there's a bridge (which traffic can't pass beneath) which is signed as 6'-0" / 1.9m. I am not the best at maths, but Google tells me that 6ft is equal to 1.82m, and 1.9m is equal to about 6ft 3in.

    So is the bridge 1.9m or 1.82m? In France I saw many signs indicating bridge / tunnel height restrictions to the nearest 5cm, such as one which was 1.85m - surely adding the extra digit would help make signs clearer, even if only allowed to display a 5, and would also help rid us of the "inches are more precise than 10ths of a metre" argument. This could also be done when signs just reach the end of their life cycle and are replaced.

  7. Cliff says:

    A small battle has been won by UKMA. Well done. Such a pity that the job wasn't done properly and the imperial units removed completely. Hopefully the public will see how unnecessary the supplementary imperial units are when these signs are rolled out and see the sense in reducing the clutter and removing them altogether.
    Does this mean that the loonies at ARM can no longer use the ridiculous UK laws prohibiting metric signs to protect them from vandalism charges? If such laws still exist I think the next battle for the UKMA is to convince the government to repeal them.

  8. David says:

    This is very welcome news; thank you to UKMA for its lobbying on this issue.

    While many people may know their own height in feet (as a result, for "younger" people, of having had to learn to convert for older people) far fewer will know the size of their vehicle in imperial measures, so requiring metric measurements on height and width signs is a very sensible and long, long overdue (by about 40 years) step.

    This isn't just an important safety improvement for foreign drivers, but for British drivers too. Although I may grudgingly know my own height in feet, I simply can't (and don't) visualise measures greater than a person in feet, and I am sure the same must be the case for most people who have grown up with the metric system (ie, almost everybody under 50), while it may be feet for some for human measurements, it is more likely to be metres for the rest (and then back to miles, "thanks" to the road signs).

    Now if only we could see the same official recognition that the same gradual introduction of dual-unit km/mi distance measures on roadsigns (as they are replaced) would be more helpful/understandable not only to foreign drivers (including those from the Republic of Ireland), but, for example, everybody navigating using our own metric Ordnance Survey maps as well. I am afraid it is very unlikely that an instant conversion to km roadsigns will ever take place, and I'd rather see it happen gradually than not at all, which regrettably will be the result of UKMA's too-strict stance on that matter.

  9. Nick says:

    Is this dual-measure or dual-signage?

    If it's dual-signage then excellent! When full metrication happens all we need to do is remove the imperial signs at zero cost. If it's dual-measure then metric and imperial will appear on the same sign which makes removing imperial slightly more difficult and could lead to further entrenchment of "metrimperial".

  10. Erithacus says:

    Responses to some of these comments:

    Paragraphs 5.35 to 5.38 of the (current¹) Traffic Signs Manual attempt to explain how the metric dimensions are calculated - thus:


    5.35 The maximum width permitted, in imperial
    units, should be 6 inches less than the narrowest
    part of the road, rounded to the nearest 6 inches
    downwards. If this narrow part is long and not
    straight it might be necessary to increase the
    clearance to allow for long vehicle overhang at
    bends. If the limit is introduced for environmental
    reasons, a width of 6 ft 6 in is frequently used, as
    this excludes most lorries.
    5.36 The sign to diagram 629A is a combined metric
    and imperial version of the width limit sign. In order
    to maintain equivalent legibility, it is one step larger
    in size than diagram 629 (see Appendix A). It may be
    used in place of the imperial-only version, but metric
    units alone must not be used. It is recommended that
    this sign is used in preference to the sign to diagram
    629. The metric dimension should be obtained by
    measuring the narrowest part of the road in metres
    to two decimal places, subtracting 0.15 metres and
    deleting the second decimal digit.
    5.38 The vehicle length (in feet and inches) to be
    shown on the sign to diagram 629.1 will depend on
    any physical constraints along the road, particularly
    sharp bends, or, in the case of an environmental limit,
    the size of vehicle to be prohibited. Metric units may
    be substituted for imperial (see working drawing
    P 629.1), but the sign must then be used alongside
    one displaying imperial units only (Schedule 16,
    item 2). It is recommended that both the imperial
    and metric sign should be used wherever practicable.
    The metric dimension is obtained by converting the
    imperial dimension to metres and deleting the second
    and any subsequent decimal digit."

    It is all rather confusing, as it varies between converting imperial to metric or remeasuring in metric units. Unless I have missed it, it doesn't actually say how to measure the height restriction, so it's all a bit of a mess.

    It appears that the imperial dimension is regarded as primary. The deletion of the second metric digit ensures that the metric dimension is up to 10 cm less than the imperial. In view of the scope for error this is probably a prudent precaution.

    Needless to say, it would be so much simpler if the signs were metric only.
    ¹ I would assume that the Manual will be revised in due course

  11. Erithacus says:

    @ John Steele
    The European Units of Measurement Directive requires that the symbol for "mile" is "mile", so the DfT is really out of order to use "m" especially since they also use it (correctly) to denote "metre"! However, there is no real need for a symbol at all. Most road signs giving distances just give the number - e.g. Birmingham 114, which is read as 114 miles.

    When distances are converted to kilometres, at that point it may be necessary to insert "km", but the Irish got round this and saved space by putting "km" at the head of a column.

  12. Erithacus says:

    @ David
    I disagree in principle with your view that UKMA should endorse dual unit signage for distances - let alone speed limits.

    UKMA's view is that a "clean break" is best and least confusing. The experience of dual measures in retailing has shown that many - especially older - people simply look at the imperial number and ignore the metric. As long as the imperial crutch is there, no progress is made, and it becomes even more difficult to standardise on "a single, rational system of measurement" (UKMA's slogan). So we are opposed to dual unit distance signage, and dual unit speed limits are a complete NoNo. Think of the potentially catastrophic consequences if 80 km/h is misread as 80 mph. In a safety critical situation, there must be absolute clarity as to which units are in use.

    I acknowledge that UKMA's advocacy of dual unit height and width restriction signs is inconsistent with this principle. However, we are in a political environment, and compromises are sometimes necessary. The dual unit signs are already in existence, and on balance it was felt better to build on these while advocating that metric-only signs should eventually replace the dual unit signs. This is quite apart from the obvious safety arguments.

  13. John Steele says:

    The rules on stating a height restriction are in a different chapter, see paragraphs 7.11 and 7.12 of Chapter 4.

    Working backwards, the stated Imperial height clearance must be a multiple of 3" and the measured clearance must be at least 3", but less than 6" greater than the stated clearance. The stated metric height clearance must be a multiple of 0.1 m and the measured clearance must exceed stated clearance by at least 0.080 m, but less than 0.180 m.

    Applying BOTH rules, the actual clearance must be at least 1.98 m (to support 1.9 m posted) and strictly less than 1.9812 m ( to support 6' vs. 6'3" posted).

    There are exceptions when the road dips (as for underpasses) to measure to a 25 m chord rather than actual bottom.

  14. Erithacus says:

    @ John Steele
    Thanks, John. Quite right. I was misled because I had supposed that since a height restriction sign is a "Regulatory sign", it would be dealt with in Chapter 3 ("Regulatory signs") together with the width and length restriction signs - rather than in Chapter 4 ("Warning signs") ! No wonder the traffic engineers make mistakes.

    The full text is as follows:

    7.7 All bridges and other structures with a headroom
    of less than 16'- 6" should be clearly signed. The
    figure shown on the signs to indicate the available
    headroom should be at least 3 inches less than the
    measured height to allow a safety margin and should
    be expressed to the nearest multiple of 3 inches.
    Thus the maximum figure which will normally appear
    on the sign is 16'- 0". The headroom should be remeasured
    if the road is re-surfaced, and the signs
    changed if the works alter the clearance beyond
    the 3 inches safety margin. Care should be taken
    to ensure that vehicles of the maximum length
    permitted by the Construction and Use Regulations
    will be able to pass safely under the bridge. This is
    particularly important where the road dips or hogs
    sharply or is on a curving alignment under the bridge.
    Changes in gradient might affect the height, e.g. the
    effective clearance will be reduced for a long wheel
    base vehicle spanning a dip.
    7.8 Metric heights may be shown in addition to
    imperial heights at any bridge. This is recommended
    for all bridges on main routes and on roads used
    frequently by foreign drivers. When diagrams 530,
    531.1, 532.2 or 532.3 are used, two separate signs
    are required, with the imperial version shown above
    or to the left of the metric. Metric signs must not be
    used unless accompanied by corresponding imperial
    7.9 Metric heights must not be converted from those
    shown on the imperial signs. The bridge height must
    be measured in metric units to two decimal places,
    rounding down to the nearest centimetre and the
    following formula adopted to calculate the
    appropriate signed height:
    (i) if the second decimal digit is 8 or 9, delete it
    and sign the bridge with the remaining whole
    number and the first decimal digit,
    (ii) if the second decimal digit is 7 or less, delete
    it and reduce the first decimal digit by 1. Sign
    the bridge with the remaining whole number
    and first decimal digit, as reduced,
    e.g. measured height 4.19 metres
    sign as 4.1 m,
    measured height 4.17 metres
    sign as 4.0 m.
    The height shown on the sign must be to only one
    decimal place."

    So there you have it.

  15. Charlie says:

    @John Steele & @Erithacus

    Thank you for clearing that up the best possible despite the complete hodgepodge of measurements and rules.

    Needless to say this would be much simpler if the road were only measured and signed in one, rational system. A quick google also tells me that the 16ft 6in "cut-off" is actually (more or less) code for 5m (5.0292m, to be exact) and yet another example of how the DfT can really see it makes sense to go metric, but don't want to risk being *gasp* unpopular.

  16. Martin Vlietstra says:

    Height warning signs in the UK are a mess! A driver can pass under a railway bridge that has a warning sing that the clearance is only 11 ft 6 in. Immediately after the bridge, the diver can pull up into a petrol station where the height warning on the canopy over the petrol pumps states that the clearance is 3.5 metres. Both are legally correct – imperial units on road signs and metric units on buildings. At least this announcement is a step in the right direction.
    From a safety point of view, I believe that it would be foolish to change height restriction signs overnight – British legislation requires that UK-registered vehicles that are over 3 metres in height shall have a notice that is clearly visible to the driver, giving the height in feet and inches. This applies to non-UK vehicles as well, but only to those that are over 4 metres in height.
    The way forward as I see it is to ensure that all road signs have dual units and then to make it mandatory for the driver's notice to be in metric rather than imperial units. This would be checked as part of the vehicle's annual MoT test, thereby giving a one-year change-over period. After that date imperial-unit signs can be removed as they reach the ends of their useful lives.

  17. John Steele says:

    This is not directed at you as I know the law is worded this way. However, nothing says "muddle" quite as clearly as this sentence, "British legislation requires that UK-registered vehicles that are over 3 metres in height shall have a notice that is clearly visible to the driver, giving the height in feet and inches."

    As to the in-cab notice, I think it should really be "dual" until the last Imperial-only height sign dies of old age.

    Question: When a tractor unit pulls different trailers, is this sign updated to reflect the current load or is it only the height of the tractor unit? If only the tractor, are trailers similarly marked? It would seem the driver needs a reminder in-cab of the combined height of the total rig he is driving that day.

  18. John Smith says:

    They certainly are MartinVl, but the law clearly states that signs on private land to which the public has access are subject to law as well, a law that, frankly still requires Imperial. Whereas Imperial signs are grandfathered in, metric-only signs are not, and their removal or modification has been successfully amended, according to ARM, seven times in court, with full transcripts available in the public record, as precedent, even if Wikipedia takes to denying their existence. I read through one in its entirety, once, and there was a successful defense under the notion that metric signs are illegally placed, as metric-only signs are not allowed, either by current, or by 2015 DfT regulations. Metric-only signs remain illegally placed wherever they are located in areas to which the public has access, whether or not they are removed or replaced, and a private entity to which a height-related strike occurs continues to remain liable for damages if they are in violation of the law w/metric-only warnings.

  19. Erithacus says:

    @ John Smith
    This is not correct - for three reasons.

    Firstly, the rules that you refer to only apply to land over which the public has a right of access. So this includes many pedestrianised areas and also privately owned land over which there is a public right of way. But, crucially, it excludes petrol filling stations, car parks and other private land where their owners have the right to deny access to the general public.

    Secondly, the rules only apply to actual traffic signs of the approved design. So a home made sign not conforming to the TSRGD can be used. This would include a whole range of tourist-oriented signs on finger posts and street furniture, especially in pedestrian areas.

    Thirdly, it is open to any individual or company or public authority to apply for permission to erect a sign under the Town and Country Planning (Control of Advertisement) Regulations. Permission can only be refused on grounds of amenity or public safety. Thus, the planning authority may object to the position, size or level of illumination of the sign, but they cannot refuse consent because of what it says or the measurement units which appear on it - although of course there may be other rules regarding defamation, misleading information, decency, etc.

    Further information (including many examples of perfectly legal metric-only signs) can be obtained from UKMA's website at http://www.ukma.org.uk/road-signage, and follow the various links.

  20. John Smith says:

    There was a test case where Tony Bennett got arrested for amending a restriction sign, think height not width, in a car park or parking garage, and the charges were dropped on advice from the airport's legal counsel or city prosecutor. Unless you are a lawyer who has passed the bar in the UK, it is probably best not to give legal advice. Tony Bennett did pass the bar, and studied the law in detail before organizing ARM to strike back at the TSO's who prosecuted a pound of bananas. I would say lawyers in the UK DO consider a car park - a parking lot - private lands to which the public has access. Anyone in a car, road legal, with a valid license, not under the influence, can drive through and park in a lot for the period of time they pay for or need to to shop. There are ROADS in car parks. The format they use is probably up to them, but thdy are still subject to the law defining Imperial as required on height and width signs. Wovld you defend a height sign in cubits? In sazheni?In shaku? In rutes?
    [I can only refer you to my previous comment - Erithacus]

  21. John Smith says:

    I was on a phone last night and didn't have the opportunity to refute your other two points last night. Tourist-oriented signs appeal to 330 million AMERICAN tourists, and 60 million UK TOURISTS as well, don't they? And what indicates a sign is tourist-oriented? Tower of London 300 m ahead? I would say that is a sign to which the public has access. I don't think anyone would object to DUAL in this case, as a tourist attraction may also have signs in multiple languages.I Have no idea whatsoever what street furniture is. On your third point, a sign that goes through T&CP Reg.'s can be rejected for issues of public safety. Public safety can be compromised by using unfamiliar units, depending on application. A sign giving distances to sister cities of Salisbury? -Not so much, though I found the back-and-forth correspondence, stealth conversion to miles, and conversion BACK TO KM highly entertaining and, at times, hillarious. A sign giving pedestrians or motorists units-public safety.

  22. BrianAC says:

    @John Smith

    We are all pretty much in agreement then. The law is a mess and should be simplified and clarified.

    Which way you choose to go depends on whether you wish to live in the age of the Rosetta stone or in the age of the Rosetta spacecraft. The choice of most of us would probably be latter.

  23. Jake says:

    @ John Smith

    Tourist signs also appeal to 1.36 billion Chinese. They understand our pictograms as they are the same as they see at home (think: public safety). And to 1.3 billion Indians. Then there's 500 million tourists in the EU (including us) and a full 743 million in Europe as a whole we might want to attract. You might have noticed the decline in American visitors and the rise in tourists from around the world yourself in recent years. This mirrors general economic trends. Britain today is a global player. It needs to attract visitors from around the whole world, not just the USA.

  24. John Frewen-Lord says:

    Most Americans I have known have had no problem in understanding Canadian metric signs when visiting Canada. I remember one visiting US colleague, not too long after Canada converted, who was chuckling over the fact that when he got back home he was able to say, in jest, that in Canada on the freeways you can drive at a hundred.

    Canada of course felt no need for dual height and width signs - along with the speed limits they went straight to metric-only signs. US drivers (even US truck drivers) managed to cope, and there weren't too many incidents of trucks getting stuck under low bridges - certainly not enough that it became a conscious problem. It would be nice if the UK could also dispense with dual measures, but I suppose we must be grateful for the progress that has been made.

    Notwithstanding the excellent effort made by the UKMA, does anyone know whether this does in fact signal a change in heart within DfT, or whether this is merely a sop to silence some critics? If the former, then perhaps metric speed and distance signs may just be on the horizon. Here's hoping.

  25. W J G says:

    Congratulations to UKMA. I am sure that dual signs will reduce bridge strikes.

    However, I note that DfT has responded, and authorised, dual width and height signs only.

    The UKMA submission to DfT also included the withdrawal of imperial only length signs and depth signs (ford depths), and a proposal that a new dual length sign be introduced.

    Has the UKMA had any feedback from the DfT regarding the proposal of the length and depth signs?

  26. Michael Glass says:

    While any movement towards the metric system should be welcomed, the DfT's proposed change is absolutely the least they could do. Indeed, it seems to drag the chain as much as possible. Look at the evidence:

    * It's restricted to height and width. Not even the depth of water at a ford is included.

    *The old signs will only be replaced when they wear out or are replaced during routine maintenance. (Obviously, the bean counters were not prepared to spend one extra penny on this change.)

    * The new signs will be dual metric/imperial and not metric only, so the effect will be minimal.

    However, new dual metric/imperial signs, when they finally come, will be obligatory, so something must have propelled a reluctant DfT to change.

  27. Edward James says:

    With dual signing it is wrong that the metric measurement should be above the Imperial measurement. With other road signs and distances remaining in Imperial surely Imperial should take priority and be above the metric measurement.

    The majority of drivers in the UK think and work in 'miles' as a distance measurement and 'feet and inches' for widths and heights. It is foreign drivers who will benefit from this dual signing AND THIS I APPLAUD but as they are the minority Imperial SHOULD ALWAYS BE SHOWN ABOVE Metric.

  28. Nigel Pearce says:

    It is jaw-droppingly amazing how slow this all is. I remember (I should think they are still there) road signs in Cumbria saying something like "Width limit 2.6 metres 250 yards ahead", which exemplified perfectly the British mixture of systems and attitudes. While some institutions like the BBC try quite hard, with most of its reporters speaking in metric terms, this is far from universal and, surely, must make GB look rather quaint and irrelevant on the world stage, especially in Europe.

  29. BrianAC says:

    @ Edward James 2014-11-17 at 17:12

    Sorry but you are wrong about the majority of drivers in the UK thinking in miles. Statistics now show metric educated adults are in the majority, add to this those of us that were metric educated before this timeline. There must be very few (over 70) drivers, and those that do not understand metric. I now have to use a metric sat nav to avoid miles.
    Great 'U' turn by the DfT after they reversed the previous decision to display metric signs.
    I have to raise the point again, in your personal view, why do you consider the people of UK to be the only race in the world so stupid that they cannot handle metric changeover, on roads and elsewhare?
    Ireland did it, (an Island nation, and EU member) South Africa did it, Australia and New Zealand did it (both Island countries), Malta did it (island country)most of the Commonwealth countries did it, all but Ireland are non EU countries, so come on, why do you think the UK populace cannot?
    I hate Imperial, I see no love affair between myself and the mile, imposed upon the plebs and serfs of England by the savage and brutal rule of the Roman Empire.

  30. Jake says:

    @ Edward James

    If the majority of drivers in the UK think in miles, that is simply because the road signs are still in miles. But the road signs are not only there for the populace of the UK, they are there for all road users, whether you happen to live in the UK or not. Foreign drivers are not a race apart, they are road users like us and have a right to expect to understand the road signs they encounter anywhere on a journey through Europe. That is why pictogram signs are so much better than signs that use words, which take longer to digest. Since British children have been taught metric units now for over forty years there really is no excuse for not using metric units as the default on road signs throughout the UK system, not just as an add-on above or below an antiquated imperial unit. Even the older people I know (in their 70s) have no difficulty with metric.

  31. Martin Vlietstra says:

    @Edward James – May I remind you that tachographs use metric units. Also, drivers of heavy vehicles are more likely to travel abroad than other drivers, so they have constant exposure to metric units. In addition, metric units are mandatory on buildings such as garage canopies, imperial units are optional. Again, it is drivers of heavy vehicles who are in danger of hitting those. The biggest class of private drivers who need to pay attention to height and width restrictions signs are those who drive 4x4 vehicles and their handbooks are in metric units anyway. (For example, please visit http://www.landrover.co.uk/vehicles/range-rover/pricing-and-specifications.html).

    In short – drivers who are affected by the signs have a wide exposure to metric units.

  32. W J G says:

    @Edward James.
    I am not sure if the majority of drivers, still think, and work in miles.
    I don't think it's one or the other, I think they use both metric and/or Imperial depending on the situation.

    However. The dual restriction signs are not on the roads, for the majority of drivers, or for the majority of road users. People driving cars, or even SUVs and vans will have no problem driving under bridges and through tunnels.

    The dual signs are primary there, for the drivers of large, wide, high, long, HGVs.

    The dual signs assist, not only the foreign HGV driver, but also the British HGV driver, because the British heavy transport industry is predominately metric in its measurements.

    Hence, the reason for the metric measurement to be in upper part of the sign.

  33. Nigel Pearce says:

    A first step in pushing things on might be to produce all new cars with dual reading speedometers (as now) but with km uppermost, followed by the changing of motorway signs to read km (only). It is common human experience that if there is only one system it is quickly adopted and understood, but the dual speedos might help while the signs are being replaced, since this would not happen overnight. But the reason I joined this discussion is my continuing failure to see what those in power are afraid of, when it comes to encouraging UK to join the modern world. Children are all taught metric and have been for decades, so what (apart from the tired old excuse of budget) is the problem?

  34. Tim Bentley says:

    This is good news and long overdue. Realistically, I think that the next achievable target is the replacement of yards with metres on new signage. As we all know , this would not require any sign positions to be moved because yards are measured in metres by highways engineers and have been for decades! I don't think we need worry about the 'm' symbol being confused for miles as very few distance signs use m. The only ones I can recall are distances to service areas on motorways.

  35. Alex says:

    Despite our wish that imperial units be dropped completely I do think this is a good step, I sometimes wonder if there are some elements in government (including the DfT) do wish they could put this issue to bed but, as probably the most publicly visible use of measurements, are wary of causing a voter backlash. Evidence of this seems to be the small moves they have made in recent years; the change from T to t on weight limit signs being the first one, I have noticed in my locale that new signs are being put up though that didn't start to happen when t was allowed as a variation but when the diagram in the traffic signs manual was updated to use this. Some of the signs that have been replaced didn't even seem to be that old.

    I suspect the same will be the case with height and width limit signs and that within a couple of years we'll rarely see imperial-only signs and the DfT may quietly decide that the mandatory notice in HGV cabs showing trailer height might be switched to metric without much of a fuss.

    As frustrating as it may be it seems to me that if we can keep the current momentum in the "small steps" being taken at DfT that we may see more change in coming years than we have in recent decades, perhaps even opening their minds to some of the larger changes sooner rather than later.

  36. CHRIS ANDREWS says:

    What a boring place the world would be if everywhere was metricated. About the head height signs. By law even if a metric measurement of height is used it must be in brackets whilst feet and inches must remain the main measurement of height. A little way up the road where I live there is a new block of flats, obviously, like all new buildings from the 1970s onward was designed in metric measurements. The stupid builders the head height given was would you believe was wait for it. 2,700 millimetres. That surely is actually illegal to do that and just shows sheer laziness on the part of the builders. As for miles and yards on the road and railway systems. In 2010 in a survey 96 percent wanted to continue to use them. The E.U gave in to such opposition. As soon as the U.K.M.A IS made defunct and the fightback against early 19th century Napeolonic garbage begins the better. Listening to native English speakers talking in metric is a weird concept and sadly sometimes a reality.

  37. Charlie says:

    @ Chris

    Surely you mean what an easier world it would be?

    This change is effectively making metric and imperial equal when it comes to height and width restriction, rather than the imperial primary as you so claim - it will be illegal to have one measure without the other.

    Regarding the height restriction being given as 2,700 mm; this is easily recognisable as 2.7 m for anyone who has received a metric education (over 50% of the UK population) - as opposed to the equivalent being given as 106 in; just how would you be able to work that out in feet and inches quickly? Private property can use whichever units they want, indeed many privately owned car parks omit any reference to feet and inches.

    As for miles and yards on the roads and railways; you are of course referring to the metric-defined yard of exactly 0.9144 m, yes? Though obviously many contractors when placing road signs will use the more convenient 0.9 m or 1 m, and treat a mile as exactly 1.6 km.

    The EU may have "given in" to opposition by removing the legal requirement for the UK to fully convert to the metric system, but like it or lump it; the metric system is here to stay and its influence and use is only going to grow.

    As a linguist, I must disagree with your final point; the evolution of language to adapt to a changing world is partly what makes them fascinating, but that is a different point entirely.

  38. John Frewen-Lord says:


    What planet are you living on? The fact is, 97% of the world uses the metric system (and usually only that system). Boring? Well, yes, if you hate clarity in being able to compare unit prices, hate being unable to talk measurements with people in other countries, hate wanting our children to be able to hold their own in an increasingly international world, and so on.

    Personally, I'll take boring if it means the UK can compete in the world as a whole on equal terms, if we can better our overall prosperity by showing the world that we talk the same measurement language as they do, and even become more efficient by ditching that cumbersome, silly and antiquated set of units we call imperial. Imperial's day has now long gone, and those who still hanker for it are just wanting to live in the past. Interestingly, you accuse builders who post signs saying 2700 mm as being lazy. But doesn't that also apply to people like yourself, who are too lazy to embrace the world's metric measurement system?

  39. Michael Glass says:

    "Listening to native English speakers talking in metric is a weird concept..." Really? Try going to Australia and New Zealand and that's exactly what you'll hear.

    There's nothing weird about 35mm film, a litre of soft drink or 750ml of wine or any of the other metric measures.

  40. Leo says:

    Considering there are hundreds of millions of native English speakers in Africa and Asia living in metric countries I wouldn’t be surprised if the majority of native English speakers use metric in their everyday language. It’s mainly Americans for whom metric is difficult.

    Most people in the UK I come across seem perfectly fine with metric for smaller measures (grammes, kilogrammes, millilitres, centilitres, millimetres, centimetres, metres), it’s the bigger ones (hectares, kilometres) that can be a bit challenging at times.

  41. BrianAC says:

    I am sure others would have noticed the new draft 2016 regulations from DfT.
    What I find interesting is the statistics of the consultation
    The consultation of UK councils returned 96% in favour, 0% ambivalent, 4% against.
    Of all qualified respondents the statistics were 88% in favour, 3% ambivalent, 9% against.

    Surely with statistics like this it must be even more difficult for DfT to even pretend there is 'no case' for a change to full metric on UK roads?

    Come on! 96% to 4% (at worst even 88% to 12%), the time must have come?


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