Earlier this year, Ronnie Cohen contacted the US Metric Association (USMA) to get information about the current situation in the USA regarding its transition to the metric system. Paul Trusten, Registered Pharmacist and Vice President and Public Relations Director of USMA, responded.
Ronnie put five questions to USMA about various aspects of the situation in the USA regarding metrication. Here are the questions and answers given by Paul.
1. What recent progress has there been in the USA in moving to metric?
As we often observe, metrication is happening “osmotically,” in spite of the U.S. lack of a coordinated national plan. Prescription-only and over-the-counter oral liquid medications are being dosed more and more in millilitres only. USMA members bring to light print and media articles that use only the metric system in text and illustrations.
2. What is the current situation in the USA regarding the measurement muddle between metric and US Customary units?
It continues to be “a very American mess” (worse, I think, than your “very British mess” as coined by that excellent UKMA report). U.S. federal law continues to require both metric and customary units on product labelling. We do have a state regulation for metric-only labelling that has been adopted by all jurisdictions except New York State, but this has not yet gained influence across the nation in terms of policy.
3. How widespread are metric units on US road signs?
They are not widespread. They seem to appear in a few places and only as old or new experiments. But when they do appear, it is usually alongside the customary units (miles as primary units with kilometres in parentheses). A notable exception is a 100 km section of Interstate 19 in Arizona, from Tucson to the Mexican border. All distance signs here are in kilometres only. However, speed limit signs are in miles per hour only.
You can find more examples of metric road signs on US roads at http://www.us-metric.org/metric-signs-on-roads-in-the-u-s/.
4. What products are sold in rational metric sizes in the USA?
A diverse range of beverages, foods, health and beauty care products and cleaning products are sold in rational metric sizes (Source: http://www.us-metric.org/consumer-products-available-in-metric-sizes/). This web page also gives examples of miscellaneous products sold in rational metric sizes.
5. How widespread is metric use in US industry?
As a result of US businesses manufacturing for and selling to world markets, where the metric system dominates, it is natural that much of US industry has gone metric. For example, the US car industry has produced cars entirely to metric specifications since the 1990’s, a typical example of the hidden use of metric units. It is ironic that US car manufacturers still advertise to US consumers in non-metric units, despite the fact that these units are not used for US car production at all. (Source: Jan/Feb 2016 Edition of ‘Metric Today’, the USMA newsletter.)
USMA gives several examples of US businesses that have gone metric. You can find them at http://www.us-metric.org/going-metric-pays-off/.