Thursday, February 23, 2006

Why the switch to metric could be olympic task

The Times
By Ben Webster, Transport Correspondent

BRITAIN must convert all road signs to metric in time for the 2012 Olympics or risk being seen as a backward nation clinging to an awkward and outmoded measurement system, according to a report published today.

More than 40 years after Britain began the conversion from imperial measurement, the UK Metric Association is urging the Government to set a deadline for changing half a million speed and distance signs. The association argues that the switch to metric road signs would yield safety benefits — such as reducing confusion among foreign visitors — and encourage British people to “think metric”.

The report reads: “The lack of facility to think in terms of metres and kilometres and kilometres per hour spills over into other walks of life.” Weather forecasters typically use centigrade for temperature but give wind speed in miles per hour. DIY stores give measurements and instructions in a confusing mix of imperial and metric.

Maps and atlases use the kilometre-based national grid, but distance charts are usually in miles. The Highway Code gives stopping distances in metres, but road signs tell drivers how many yards to a hazard.

The association also suggests that going metric would provide an opportunity to set more sensitive speed limits, with some rounded up and others rounded down.

The Republic of Ireland, which converted its road signs to metric a year ago, increased its 70mph motorway speed limit to 120km/h, or 75mph. The 60mph limit on single carriageway roads became 80km/h, or 50mph.

The association accuses the Department for Transport of exaggerating the costs of conversion to justify its failure to bring Britain into line with the rest of Europe.

The department asserted yesterday that it would cost £750 million to install new signs and £10 million to publicise the change. The association believes that it would cost only £80 million, or 0.27 per cent of the annual roads budget, if the investment and conversion were spread over five years.

The Irish experience supports the association’s estimate. Ireland spent £7 million on the switch, including £5.5 million to convert 59,000 signs. Most changes involved simply installing a new plate on an existing post. The average cost per sign was about £90, compared with the DfT estimate of £1,500.
Robin Paice, the chairman of the association, said: “We are appalled that the antimetric culture is so deep-rooted in the DfT that it resorts to inventing spurious figures to frighten people off before even considering the issue.”
In a foreword to the report, Lord Kinnock, the former Labour Party leader, accuses successive governments of ducking the issue, resulting in an “excruciatingly slow changeover to metric”.

He writes: “Our imperial road signs contradict the image of our country as a modern, multicultural, dynamic place.

“If the recommendations of this report are followed, Britain can join the modern metric world by the time that the all-metric Olympic Games open in London in 2012.”

Britain began the conversion to metric in 1965, when road signs were scheduled for conversion in 1973. However, officials advised that the deadline was unrealistic, and it was abandoned in 1970. A White Paper in 1972 said that the issue would have to be reconsidered in detail, “but not for some years”. Since then transport ministers have tended to argue that the changeover would be confusing for older drivers and could result in crashes.

But Ann Cody, the road safety official who oversaw the change in the Irish Republic, said that there had not been a single serious incident in the past 12 months. She said: “There were many scare stories before the switch, but the danger never materialised.”

A DfT spokesman said: “We don’t think there are any demonstrable benefits for making the change. Frankly, we have got better things to do with taxpayers’ money.”

He called back half an hour later and said: “I just wanted to reiterate that we have absolutely no plans whatsoever to do this.”

British building regulations are in metric, but estate agents use feet and inches

Draught beer is sold in pints, bottled beer and glasses of wine in millilitres

Cricket pitches are in yards, but rugby uses metres

Petrol is sold in litres, but fuel consumption is usually measured in miles per gallon, tyre pressure in pounds per square inch

Fruit and vegetables are sold in kilos in supermarkets, but many market stallholders use pounds and ounces

People measure themselves in feet and inches, and stones and pounds, but doctors use the metric system

Some newspapers tend to use Celsius to highlight cold weather, while preferring Fahrenheit to report a heatwave

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

when the olympics comes to london it will be the first time that afro carribeans will be running round the east end without the police chasing them

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