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Britain's road signs could go metric within five years, according to a new report by the UK Metric Association. The...
Britain's road signs could go metric within five years, according to a new report by the UK Metric Association. The report shows that there would be many benefits from converting road signs to show kilometres, metres and km/h (kilometres per hour). It calls on the government to name an early date for making this change, which could be done economically and safely.

Neil Kinnock (former Labour leader) provides a foreword to the report and comments: 'Our imperial road signs are perhaps the most obvious example of the muddle of measurement units in the United Kingdom. They contradict the image - and the reality - of our country as a modern, multicultural, dynamic place where the past is valued and respected and the future is approached with creativity and confidence. If the recommendations of this report are followed, Britain can join the modern metric world - and do so by the time that the all-metric Olympic Games open in London in 2012.'

UKMA's report points out that, when the metrication programme began in 1965, it was originally intended to convert Britain's road signs in 1973. However, this part of the plan was put on hold in 1970 and then never reinstated. Thus, although most of Britain is officially metric (eg price labels, school text books, building plans) our road signs are a major exception which forces British people to have to know and use two incompatible systems - metric and imperial - with all the confusion, mistakes, waste and incomprehension that results. Britain is in fact the only advanced country in the world which does not authorise metric speed limit and distance signs.

Other reasons cited for making the change include:

* drivers would get consistent information in one, single, easy system

* greater efficiency for surveyors, map-makers, motor manufacturers and contractors

* easier calculation of fuel consumption

* speed limits more finely tuned to local road conditions

* drivers visiting the UK could drive more safely

* signposting would be compatible with Ordnance Survey maps

Drawing on the experience of Australia in the 1970s and the Irish Republic last year, the report outlines principles for carrying out the conversion. It shows that fears about road safety are unfounded and calculates that, if spread over five years, the cost of the changeover would represent a mere 0.27% of annual roads expenditure.

The report concludes with a practical, costed 5-year plan.

The report's authors recognise that there is some opposition to completing the 41 year old metrication project, but they say that if the government were to act decisively, they could well gain credit for persevering with its modernisation programme in the face of uninformed and irrational opposition.

UKMA chairman, Robin Paice, commented: 'Most senior politicians know perfectly well that the current position is unsustainable and that it would be in the national interest to complete the changeover to the metric system - including putting metres and kilometres on road signs - as soon as possible. The Irish have shown how easily, safely, and economically it can be done. The British government should just get on with it.'

The report is available here

Department for Transport Estimating the cost of conversion of road traffic signs for speed and distance measurements to metric units


The UK Metric Association (UKMA) is an independent, non-party political, single issue pressure group which advocates the full adoption of the international metric system ('Système International') for all official, trade, legal, contractual and other purposes in the United Kingdom as soon as practicable. UKMA is financed entirely by membership subscriptions and personal donations.

The UK has a 'derogation' (opt out) from the EU Directive which allows the government to fix its own date for converting road signs. There has been no pressure from the commission to fix this date, which is thus a matter for the British government and parliament to decide.

Comparison between metrication in Britain and Australia

Comparison between Britain's decimal currency and metric conversions

Britain's current road signage mess and legislation

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