British drivers’ exposure to metres

Ronnie Cohen takes a look at some of the ways in which British  drivers are exposed to metric measures. Metric Views would be interested hear of readers’ experiences, though it is not possible, unfortunately, to post photos with your comments.

Despite the absence of metres on UK road traffic signs for distance and speed, British drivers often encounter metric measures. A few examples appear in this article and there are more on UKMA’s web site:  http://www.ukma.org.uk/metric-road-signs

In rural areas, private and government hazard signs (e.g. the forestry commission) often show metres:

Also, ford depth signs are given in metres in locations where there is a crossing through a ford. I have seen a local authority notice for drivers by a local road that uses metres. Pedestrian signs near roads in some areas show metres. DIY car products and spare parts show metric units, including metres. Notices by or on buildings aimed at drivers often use metres:

Height restriction signs at petrol stations and at private car parks are usually metric, as they are provided in accordance with safety regulations rather than those relating to road traffic signs:

Distance signs to private car parks are commonly given in metres (with no imperial conversion), and would normally be authorised under planning regulations:

Advertisements (e.g. billboard advertising) and notices to local attractions near roads often use metres to express distances to venues:

Vehicle length information on the backs of long vehicles are commonly shown only in metres. When drivers turn on the car radio, they will find metres used in broadcasts about Olympic sports, news and visibility information in weather reports. When they use maps to find their way, they will find commercial maps show information in metres and kilometres (alongside imperial units) and Ordnance Survey maps just use metres and kilometres.

When drivers look in their vehicle handbooks, they will find their car’s dimensions expressed exclusively in metres. The Highway Code uses metres, in some places without any imperial conversions. Ironically, a section of the Highway Code states that a driver’s eyesight should be good enough, with spectacles or contact lenses if necessary, to be able to read a number plate from a certain distance. That distance is expressed in metres.

Despite this, successive governments have opposed the use of metric measures on road traffic signs for distance and speed. Regulations still require that vehicle dimension signs showing metres also show feet and inches. And only recently did metric measures become obligatory alongside feet and inches for new height and width restriction signs.

The Office of National Statistics has recently reported that the median age of the UK population in mid 2015 was 40. All those now under the age of 47 will have been taught only metric measures at primary school – a clear majority of the population. We have to ask how much longer will the Government insist that the rapidly declining tail continues to wag the dog.

ps. The World Athletic Championships will run from 4 to 13 August 2017 at the Olympic stadium at Stratford, London. The Championships will, of course, use only metric measures and there will be extensive TV coverage. One hopes British drivers’ presumed ignorance of metric measures when they are behind the driving wheel can be overcome when they are in front of a TV screen.

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9 Responses to British drivers’ exposure to metres

  1. Martin Vlietstra says:

    It is my understanding that due to a goverment blunder when negotiating UK opt-outs in about 1978 in respect of EU directive 80/181/EEC, it became mandatory to show metric units for clearances on buildings, but not on road signs. The government compounded this blunder by prohibiting metric units on road signs that showed width and height restrictions until a few years ago. For the record, the EU directive states that miles, yards, feet and inches may be used for purposes of "Road traffic signs, distance and speed measurement" ... "only in those Member States where they were authorised on 21 April 1973".

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  2. Daniel Jackson says:

    I'm curious if the photo showing Carriage Gates is recent or old. This sign was damaged by ARM in this photo:

    https://www.facebook.com/ARMforUK/photos/a.629968307054848.1073741827.629952883723057/1063522983699376/?type=3&theater

    Has it since been restored back to metric only?

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  3. Lee Kelly says:

    Quick somebody better call ARM & that 80 year-old from Huntingdon to take those evil signs down (tongue firmly in cheek btw) but seriously nobody is complaining about them so lets just finish the job we started in 1965 please.

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  4. Ezra Steinberg says:

    Ronnie's post seems to provide quite convincing anectodal evidence that the British public is more than ready to drop Imperial and switch to metric only. The fact that signs created by businesses and organizations are metric-only with no thought of Imperial is really quite telling.

    Too bad road signs and metrication have become a proxy in the eyes of British conservatives and far right folks for their struggle for so-called British independence from Brussels and EU bureaucrats (which is an entirely unrelated issue).

    I'm sure at some point a government will come into power that will recognize the inevitable as well as the advantages of presenting both the appearance (via the presence of metric road signs) and the reality (via a populace that is quite metric literate) of a truly metric (and therefore international) Britain.

    Such a UK will also help nudge us here in the USA to finally get on with our own metrication (once we also have a more rational government in power! 😉

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  5. BrianAC says:

    Here we expose the stupidity of the situation. Basically Health and Safety signs should be in metric for safety reasons. DfT say signs in metric will confuse people and insist on imperial signs for safety reasons.
    Nice comedy, if comedy is what it is supposed to be.

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  6. Rob says:

    The Highway Code is using metres for most situations, I am unable to find any references to the yard in any of the 307 Highway Code rules although the yard is shown on pictures of warning and roadworks signs at the back of Highway Code.
    The thinking and braking distances given in metres,feet and car lengths are not used as distances on the highway so why are they printed in the Highway Code!
    Just three examples of the road sign muddle in east Kent are -
    1. Runaway vehicle escape lanes leading to down Dover port shown in various foreign languages complete with distances given in yds.
    Do foreign drivers know what a yds is? (the entire world can understand metres.)
    2. Junction 11A sign on the M20 towards Folkestone shows 2 different meanings for m on same road sign! - A bridge height shown in m. ( and feet +inch) with the distance to it in m (for miles).
    3. mph to km/h speed conversion signs for the benefit of foreign drivers are in use heading away from Dover port on the A2. (Possibly the only place in UK where km/h is officially used on the highway).

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  7. Lee Kelly says:

    Don't worry after 2019 we can go back to the hogs head a cubits (hogs head is a Simpsons reference btw)

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  8. John Frewen-Lord says:

    Signs on the back of ambulances, taxis with wheelchair ramps, and other vehicles requiring unimpeded access to rear doors usually have that clearance shown in metres (e.g. 'Please leave 3 metres clearance for access'). Another example of where British drivers are expected to know metres.

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  9. Ezra Steinberg says:

    @ John

    So, can we now expect ARM to start vandalizing ambulances???

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