The DfT’s duplicated reports

When Ronnie Cohen was researching the use of miles and kilometres for other articles, he came across several instances of metric and imperial versions of the same report produced by the DfT. In this article he gives details.

The UK Department for Transport (DfT) produces statistical data sets for traffic volumes in miles and in kilometres. Both sets of figures were first published on 27 June 2013 and were last updated on 30 November 2017. You can access them from the Road Traffic Statistics web page at https://www.gov.uk/government/collections/road-traffic-statistics. There are 5 spreadsheet files available in both metric and imperial versions, making a total of 10 files. Both sets of statistics provide information about the distances travelled in billions of kilometres/miles with breakdowns by vehicle type, region and country and road class in all 10 files. Apart from the measurement units used to express distances, the imperial and metric versions of the same data series are essentially the same. Here is an explanation of what is in the files.

File 1: Road traffic by vehicle type in Great Britain

The “Road traffic by vehicle type in Great Britain” spreadsheet is a annual data series starting from 1949. It contains annual figures from 1949 to 2015 inclusive for the following types of vehicle:

  • cars and taxis
  • light vans
  • goods vehicles
  • motorcycles
  • buses and coaches

It aggregates annual figures for:

  • combined figures for motorcycles, buses and coaches
  • totals for all motor vehicles
File 2: Motor vehicle traffic by road class in Great Britain

The “Motor vehicle traffic by road class in Great Britain” spreadsheet is annual data series for years between 1950 and 2015 inclusive. It is split across 2 worksheets; one historic series for a few selected years up to and including 1993 and one modern series for all years between 1993 and 2015 inclusive.

It contains annual figures for a few years between 1950 and 1993 for the following types of road class (historical break-down of road class):

  • motorways
  • non-built-up A-roads
  • built-up A-roads
  • all A-roads
  • all major roads
  • non-built-up minor roads
  • built-up minor roads
  • all minor roads
  • all roads

It contains annual figures from 1993 to 2015 inclusive for the following types of road class (modern break-down of road class):

  • motorways
  • rural A-roads
  • urban A-roads
  • all A-roads
  • all major roads (total of all A-roads and motorways)
  • rural minor roads
  • urban minor roads
  • all minor roads
  • all roads
File 3: Motor vehicle traffic by road class, region and country in Great Britain

The “Motor vehicle traffic by road class and region and country in Great Britain” spreadsheet contains annual figures on separate worksheets for each year between 1993 and 2015 inclusive, making 23 worksheets in total.

On each worksheet, rows contain breakdowns for the following regions:

  • North East
  • North West
  • Yorkshire and the Humber
  • East Midlands
  • West Midlands
  • East of England
  • London
  • South East
  • South West

Additional rows contain further breakdowns for subregions within the North East, North West, Yorkshire and the Humber and West Midlands.

There are also rows for England, Wales, Scotland and Great Britain. The latter gives totals for England, Wales and Scotland combined.

Columns contain breakdowns for road class. The two biggest categories of road class are major and minor roads with breakdowns of minor roads into rural and urban roads, breakdowns of major roads into A-roads and motorways, A-roads broken down into rural and urban roads and major rural and urban road categories are each broken down further into trunk roads and principal roads. Totals given for major rural roads, major urban roads, A-roads, all major roads, all minor roads and all roads.

This is done on each worksheet for all the years where motor vehicle traffic is broken down by road class and region and country in Great Britain.

File 4: Road traffic by vehicle type and road class in Great Britain

The “Road traffic by vehicle type and road class in Great Britain” spreadsheet contains annual figures on separate worksheets for each year between 2006 and 2015 inclusive, making 10 worksheets in total.

On each worksheet, rows contain breakdowns for the following road classes:

  • Motorways
  • Rural A-roads
  • Urban A-roads
  • All major roads
  • Minor roads
  • All roads

Rural A-roads and urban A-roads are both broken down further into trunk and principal roads. Minor roads are broken down further into minor rural roads and minor urban roads.

Columns contain breakdowns for the following vehicle types:

  • Cars and taxis
  • Light vans
  • Goods vehicles
  • Motorcycles
  • Buses and coaches

This is done on each worksheet for all the years where road traffic is broken down by vehicle type and road class in Great Britain.

File 5: Motor vehicle traffic by vehicle type, region and country in Great Britain

The “Road traffic by vehicle type and region and country in Great Britain” spreadsheet contains annual figures on separate worksheets for each year between 1993 and 2015 inclusive, making 23 worksheets in total.

Each worksheet contains rows contain breakdowns for the following regions:

  • North East
  • North West
  • Yorkshire and the Humber
  • East Midlands
  • West Midlands
  • East of England
  • London
  • South East
  • South West

There are further breakdowns for subregions within the North East, North West, Yorkshire and the Humber and West Midlands.

There are also rows for England, Wales, Scotland and Great Britain. The latter gives totals for England, Wales and Scotland combined.

Columns contain breakdowns for the following vehicle types:

  • Cars and taxis
  • Light vans
  • Goods vehicles
  • Motorcycles
  • Buses and coaches

This is done on each worksheet for all the years where road traffic is broken down by vehicle type and road class in Great Britain.

Interestingly, an extra file called “Change in traffic on major roads by region and country in Great Britain” appeared on the imperial page but did not appear on the metric page. Someone accessing the data in kilometres might not be aware that it exists. The most likely reason that there is only one version of this file is that this file does not contain any measurement units, just percentage changes in traffic on major roads by region and country in Great Britain.

Two versions of the files

So why are there two versions of the five files described in this article? For each one of these files, there is a version with figures in miles and another version with figures in kilometres. There are also two web pages to maintain dual versions of these files. How much extra work has gone into producing extra versions of the same kinds of data and how much was spent on this extra work? How many other web pages and files are duplicated? Such duplication is wasteful and pointless.

We know that the current Chancellor, Philip Hammond, dropped proposals for dual signage when he was Transport Secretary, even though this would have saved money overall. Could he also have been responsible for introducing dual reporting? The production of mile-based reports is likely to be influenced by the continued use of miles for road traffic signs.

It seems that the message has not yet got through to government that we do not need two measurement systems. When the UK completes its transition to the metric system, it will no longer be necessary for the DfT to create reports and web pages in Imperial units. This will also save money too.

Links to traffic volumes web pages in miles and kilometres can be found at:

The following web pages provide data series about traffic volumes in different units, one in miles and the other in kilometres:

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8 Responses to The DfT’s duplicated reports

  1. Jake says:

    I may be slightly 'off topic' in asking, but it occurs to me to ask why Northern Ireland is not included in the DfT's sets of statistics? Why does the DfT not draw up statistics for the whole of the UK?

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  2. Ronnie Cohen says:

    @Jake

    I cannot answer your questions about Northern Ireland because I do not have any answers about this issue. You would have the ask the DfT why they did not produce any statistics for Northern Ireland in these reports. I do not know if they have published separate statistics for Northern Ireland that can be found in other reports.

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  3. LOTRJW says:

    They could easily have the spreadsheet to the conversion with an extra column for each vehicle type and totals if they wanted dual units, but no there has to be whole extra files and a whole extra page! I expect that the initial figures are taken in metric too, so would only need the mile column to be a simple calculation if thats really what they want to keep doing.
    I agree its extra work for very little gain.

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  4. BrianAC says:

    One possible answer is when Hammond was in transport he insisted all government documentation should be in Imperial.
    Thus one set of documents for the contractors with no Imperial, another set of documents for the government without metric.
    For a fixed set of figures it is probably easier to have two different spreadsheets than try to have a dual metric / imperial sheet with conversions, as I and others here have demonstrated that is not such an easy process as the push of a button would suggest.
    A bit far fetched for our government, but by having two sets of documents it is easy to see how many times each document is accessed and downloaded, and thus the popularity of each system.

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  5. Alex Bailey says:

    Yet another criminal waste of taxpayers money because a vocal minority refuse to move with the times.

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  6. Jackthesmilingblack says:

    Recent Daily Mail headline included the expression 'kph'.
    Britain's a joke.
    Jack, the Japan Alps brit

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  7. Ezra Steinberg says:

    @Jackthesmilingblack

    And yet I saw a science article the other day on the BBC News web site that used km2 with the "2" as a superscript! Zounds!

    News stories in the UK seem to be all over the place depending on who writes the story and on which media platform.

    Guess we could call that a "muddle", eh?

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  8. jackthesmilingblack says:

    It can't be a muddle, for to have a muddle you must first have order.

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