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:
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.