Metric campaigners unimpressed by poll findings

The UK Metric Association dismissed as “unrepresentative and old hat” the findings of an AA/Populus panel, showing that a large majority of AA members are opposed to metric road signs in the UK. (This press release was issued for use after 00:01 on Saturday, 2 August 2008).

UKMA Chairman, Robin Paice, said: “It is no surprise that a self-selected group of 18 500 AA members should not appreciate the case for going metric on the roads, especially when the Government has produced absurdly exaggerated cost figures to try to stifle discussion. The case for metric road signs has never been properly explained to the general public.”

(It appears that over 21 000 out of 40 000 panel members did not respond to the survey).


The UK decided to go metric in 1965 (long before our entry into the then Common Market) with a target of completion by 1975. Road signs were originally to be converted in 1973. However, in 1970, the Government postponed the road signs changeover, and it has never been reinstated.

Metrication continued in most other areas, including maths and science teaching in schools, the building and engineering industries, packaging, retailing (including litres for petrol sales) and some sports. Apart from pints for draught beer and doorstep milk, the major exception remains road signs.

As a result, the UK is stuck half way through a conversion process, and the Government has said it has no plans to sort out the resulting muddle.

UKMA’s case for metric road signs

UKMA published “Metric signs ahead”* in 2006, arguing the case for metric road signs. Here is an extract from its executive summary.

  • “The primary and overriding reason for extending the process of metric conversion to road signage is that it will enable the UK at last to enjoy a single system of measurement which is understood and used by everyone for all purposes – thus making it unnecessary for British people to be fluent with two very different and incompatible systems of measurement
  • A second reason is that it would provide drivers with consistent information in one single, easy system of units
  • Thirdly, a single set of units would be efficient for mapmakers, surveyors, engineers, motor manufacturers and contractors who build and maintain the UK’s road infrastructure
  • Furthermore, there are many other reasons why it would be beneficial to complete the changeover as soon as possible, including:

It would possible easily to calculate fuel consumption and engine efficiency.
Speed limits could be reviewed and adjusted more sensitively according to local road conditions.
Drivers visiting the UK could drive more safely.
Signposting would be compatible with Ordnance Survey maps”

At the time UKMA’s best estimate of the cost was £80 million, assuming that speed limit signs were changed over 2 â?? 3 days, while distance signs were changed over 5 years.

The Department for Transport indicated it had no intention of converting road signs, claiming the cost as £700 millions for an immediate change of 500 000 signs. (This works out at £1400 per sign, although when the Irish changed in 2005, the average cost of new and replacement speed limit signs was £100. Talk about gold plating!)

Bridge strikes

A particular problem with current mess is that of bridge strikes, many of which are by foreign HGV drivers who do not understand imperial measurements. These cost many millions of pounds per year, as well as delays to road and rail users. Both the police and Network Rail have called for dual metric and imperial signs for all low bridges – yet the Department for Transport insists that metric signs should be optional.

Final comment

Robin Paice added: â??Every country needs a system of weights and measures that everybody understands and uses for all purposes. Nobody needs two systems. It is untenable that road signs can remain indefinitely a stand alone system separate from the rest of society.â??


Notes for editors

(a)The UK Metric Association (UKMA) is an independent, non-party political, single issue organisation which advocates the full adoption of the international metric system (“Syst¨me International” – SI) 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.

(b)Further extensive background information can be found generally on UKMA’s website at .

(c)*A free downloadable electronic version of “Metric signs ahead” is available to bona fide journalists

(d)The Chairman of UKMA is available for interviews.

(e)Please note that the correct symbol for “kilometres per hour” is “km/h” (as on vehicle instrument panels) – not the little understood “kph”.

29 thoughts on “Metric campaigners unimpressed by poll findings”

  1. In addition to the bridge strikes, the UK has the issue of now having a land border with a country (Irish Republic) where all road signs are metric. Why would even a single injury or fatality even partially attributable to that situation (from driver misunderstanding or difficulty in reading the smaller numbers that indicate km/h on speedometers in cars sold in the UK) be tolerated by anyone (including the DfT)?


  2. DfT’s cost estimates for sign replacement are clearly gold-plated. £1 400 per sign is about a factor 10 more than publicly available figures elsewhere. For example the Deer Commission estimated the cost of manufacturing and installing new signs as £150-200 per sign

    Wiltshire County Council cites said in 2006 “To erect a warning or regulatory sign on a new post costs £150 – £500 dependant on size. Direction signs on new posts typically cost between £200 – £1,000
    dependant on their size.”

    Modifying existing signs by plating over or using vinyl stickers would cost no more than a completely new regulatory sign.


  3. Coupling the erroneous link in the mind of the uninformed between the EU and metrication with the wake of the recent Lisbon Treaty scenario, it seems a somewhat bizzare time to take a poll on the issue. That is, unless a result as claimed was what was being sought! To that extent I would go further than “unrepresentative and old hat� and say that it the result is invalid.


  4. Regarding the road sign muddle, the classic example (for me) that I saw in one of the guides I’ve looked at recently was the height restriction sign showing both Imperial and metric above a 50 YRD notice sign. The foreign driver unfamiliar with Imperial is not likely to understand YRD (yerd???), nor will the UK driver be aware of the fact that the sign is actually posted exactly 50 meters (not 50 yards) from the bridge up the road!


  5. The opinion of British drivers on this issue is largely irrelevant. The fact is that the standard unit for measurement of distance is the metre. It is not a political or cultural issue – it is simply a matter of fact. To label our roads and speedometers in any other unit is quite simply absurd; it is well past time to end this absurdity in the UK.


  6. This AA poll is pointless. It would be a bit like asking motorists if they were prepared to wear seat belts back in the 70s without explaining the benefit to personal safety. A sure fired way of getting a resounding no vote!


  7. Good old AA! It’s fabulous that these results actually display the feelings of the general public, and not just a few ‘metricists’ (if such a term exists). Miles, yards, feet and inches are staying, and that’s what most people actually want.


  8. This recent article has appeared in 110 media outlets to date:

    Motorists oppose metric system
    Aug 2 2008

    Motorists are miles away from wanting speed and distances on the road to be measured metrically, it has been revealed.

    Around two thirds of 18,500 AA members are strongly opposed to having speed limits in kilometres in the UK, an AA/Populus survey showed.

    And about the same number are also not keen on measuring distances in kilometres.

    The strongest opposition to going metric came from younger groups, with 83% of 18-24 year olds opposed to speed limits in kilometres per hour and 29% against kilometres being used for distances.

    The survey found that although drivers priced and bought fuel at the pumps in litres they worked out their fuel consumption in gallons.

    A total of 34% of those polled said the metric system at filling stations was now well established, but 37% wanted a return to the gallon.

    AA president Edmund King said: “Not only would going fully metric cost a fortune to implement in Britain it would also not go down well with a majority of the motoring public.

    “It does seem odd that we buy our fuel in litres but think about fuel efficiency in miles per gallon. We appear to be an imperial-metric nation.

    “However, when it comes to the safety of UK drivers and travellers we have to remember that with more than one million metric-minded drivers coming into UK each year many would benefit from having the metric measurements put up alongside our yards, miles, feet and inches, especially those driving large lorries under bridges.”


  9. How representative is the AA “poll”?

    According to Populus (who are a market research company employed by the AA) the findings are “robust”, but of course they would say that.

    In fact the AA has >1 million members, most of whom presumably joined as an insurance against breaking down on the road, rather than for any political reason. About 40 000 of them volunteered to join the Populus panel to pass opinions on topical issues. Of these, 18 500 responded to the recent survey, and 21 000 did not.

    The AA/Populus claim that the survey results are representative of AA members. That is debatable. What is clear is that they do not represent “motorists” as a whole (there are 30 million of them). And they most certainly do not represent public opinion generally.

    Motoring organisations have a record of opposing progressive measures (speed limits, parking restrictions, cameras, traffic calming, bus lanes, seat belts, congestion charging etc), so perhaps we should not take them too seriously.



  10. Tabitha,

    “Miles, yards, feet and inches are staying, and that’s what most people actually want.”

    Because it’s much more sensible to retain a system in base-12, base-3 and base-1760 (and don’t forget furlongs, fathoms, links, poles and chains). Because exit markers and roadwork advance warning signs are given at 100-yard intervals, but car odometers measure distance in multiples of 0.1 mile, or 176 yards. Because OS maps are metric, and even UK road atlas have 10-km squares.

    In fact the only reason I can think of for retaining the Imperial system is that it’s good maths practice as people grapple with conversion factors. Only it doesn’t seem to have worked, given the state of mental arithmetic in the UK…


  11. People hate change! But there are times when change is necessary. If you ask the ‘right’ question, you will get whatever answer you want, if you don’t want change. If people were asked: “Would you like this country to be able to save £XXXmillion per year, and stop it being a laughing stock in the eyes of the world, would you want that?”, then asked them whether road signs should be converted on the basis that is what is necessary to achieve this, I bet you would get 70-80% positive response. Imperial road signs are becoming untenable in a metric world. I am sure that is hurting the UK in many subtle and hidden ways.


  12. I agree with John. If the media made a connection between such issues as job loss, poor numeracy, and increased poverty and tied it in with resistance to understanding metric, then there just might be a more positive attitude towards completing the job. Funny how the issue of metric is positive in progressive countries. I wonder how many Chinese would vote for a return to old measures if they know that the metric system has been a major part in their progressive change over the past 30 years. The US and the UK on the other hand don’t seem to be as comprehending of this and as a result are in a state of decline. You reap what you sow.

    It would be interesting to see how many of those opposed to road sign conversion exist from day to day. Are they employed in meaningful jobs or are most of them out of anger spiting their face by cutting off their nose because they are stuck at the bottom of the economic ladder? This is usually the case for those who can not see the greater world beyond their own personal space nor want to.

    In a global economy, trying to go against the metric system is the surest way to become a nation on the outside of prosperity looking in.


  13. The poll results and the original questions are now available on the AA website.

    I wonder if the results would have been the same if they asked people whether they wanted speed limits in “km/h” and not “Kph”.

    Also, I’m surprised that as many as 9% wanted to calculate fuel consumption in “Km/100litres” – the normal unit for fuel consumption in metric units is “L/100 km”.

    [This illustrates the level of competence of the organisers of the survey.  It totally lacks credibility – Editor]


  14. Just to confirm that the quoted “Km/100litres” wasn’t just a fluke, the following sentence is in the preamble:

    “In terms of measuring fuel consumption 68% oppose measuring this in kilometres per 100 litres rather than miles per gallon.”

    If that is how the question was put to the panel members then the survey is invalid!


  15. As they say, there are lies, damn lies and statistics. The AA have shown a fundamental bias in their survey and interpretation of it, because they claim it would cost a lot of money to change British road signs.

    This is false because
    a) most signs can happily be changed as part of the general maintenance cycle at no additional cost
    b) the signs that can’t – speed limit signs – cost the British public millions of pounds a year in the form of higher import costs (if you buy a car in a cheaper country you have to pay to have the speedometer changed) and higher purcchase price (manufacturers have to pass to British consumers the cost of designing and supplying MPH speedometers just for the British market – every single other country in Europe uses another design)
    c) accidents caused by the 3 million foreign vehicles entering the UK each year who can’t follow MPH speed limits or avoid a low bridge posted in feet cost the economy, and therefore taxpayer, a large amount of money.

    Ask the public if they would like British motorists and taxpayers to SAVE millions of pounds by reducing accidents caused by foreign vehicles and making it cheaper to buy or import a UK-spec car then I suspect the answer may have been very different.


  16. In some of the categories, it showed the strongest support for metrication came from Northern Ireland. This makes me believe that those who are exposed to metric on the roads, simply by driving over the land border are most likely to be in favour of metrication.

    It wasn’t that surprising the younger people were more in favour of imperial. Most obviously don’t travel to countries where metric is used on the roads and thus have no exposure and thus no experience. In the US and I’m sure the UK too, the younger generations are poorer then their parents and grandparents and don’t have the money to do much, least of all travel. Many young people I have talked to have never been on a vacation and many have never been more then a few hours drive from their home.

    Without exposure to metric on the roads it is impossible to properly conduct a poll. It would make sense to convert Northern Ireland in a timely and economical manner as a test area to see how it affects conversion costs and attitudes. Maybe a poll of Australian and Irish drivers would prove beneficial.

    I would think that since more vehicles travel between Northern Ireland and Ireland then between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK, a common measurement system on the roads between the two would be more logical.

    I’m sure that the greatest resistance is in England. Scotland and Wales would be more receptive to metrication. I can’t understand why these regions should not just complete metrication and let England suffer from being on the outside looking in.


  17. I am astounded that an organisation like the AA would conduct such flawed and fallacious survey. As the editor said in one comment, it lacks credibility, the AA lack credibility. What makes it even more damning is that the AA have a presence in the public and they are merely spreading misconceptions about metric measurements.

    L/100 km makes more sense than MPG because the 100 km is a constant, where as fuel capacity is variable amongst vehicles yet fuel consumption can be the same between different vehicles. Not hard to think about. This should be made more aware of rather than just reserved for the small print on car posters! Though I don’t own a car.


  18. Sorry to take issue with the previous poster but the comparison with mpg isn’t correct. There is a constant in mpg namely ‘1’ ie. one gallon which plays the same numerical role as the 100 km in the metric case.

    I don’t know the history behind the convention of L/100 km but at a guess I’d say it has been adopted because the litre is a relatively large quantity for vehicle fuel consumption per km. If it were expressed as L/km then the numbers would typically be much less than one and not very convenient to work with. For example my own car uses about 7 L/100 km which is fairly typical of a small family saloon. If this were expressed in L/km it would be 0.07

    I also suspect that mpg rather than gallons/mile has arisen for the same reason as the 100 km rule. If consumption were measured directly (rather than by its inverse) then we’d get figures like 0.025 (40 mpg).

    The real issue for the UK is the fact that fuel is measured and sold by the litre not the outdated gallon which makes mpg awkward and inappropriate. Obviously a change to km for distance would pull everything together properly and all UK drivers would at last be able to enjoy a sensible regime of measurement for all aspects of motoring.


  19. I’m not quite sure what Thesis means about l/100km making more sense, but I use this measure because it is far, far easier to use. If I know the distance I want to travel, I can instantly calculate how many litres of petrol I’m going to need. The only drawback is that no one else in the UK seems to use this. When the conversation comes on to fuel consumption, and say that my motorcycle averages 6 l/100km, while my people-carrier uses 12, all I get are blank looks.


  20. Miles per gallon (or otherwise distance over fuel volume) only makes sense if you’re trying to compute the range that your vehicle can travel by buying a certain amount of fuel, or its range.

    However, this isn’t actually very useful information for most drivers. They know how far they want to travel and want to calculate how much fuel they’ll need and how much that will cost.

    The 1/x relationship (graph at for those who’ve forgotten what it looks like) means that an increase of 10mpg may halve the amount of fuel used, or may only reduce it by less than 20% – it depends whether you’re currently getting 10mpg or 50mpg. Measuring as fuel volume divided by distance means you can directly calculate how much money you’re saving. Also, CO2 emissions correlate very closely to the amount of fuel burnt, something completely unintelligible to those who insist on using mpg.


  21. The spokesman for Active Resistance to Metrication, Mr Bennett, has often said that opposition to metric road signs is 70% to 90%, repeating this on 30 July. So the AA Populus poll at 76% is, as the UKMA press release says, no surprise.

    When UKMA published its report “Metric signs ahead� in 2006, a similar poll of 500 civil engineers (who design and construct the roads in metric then sign them in imperial) had 42% in favour of metric signs and 56% against. That, for me, was a surprise.

    The AA Populus poll says that 8% are in favour – about 3 million people if the poll is representative of the adult population. This is also a surprise when you realise that:

    * The Department for Transport has opposed the project since 1970, and in 2006 published a grossly inflated estimate of the cost.
    * Successive governments since 1970 have never given public support.
    * For many years, the tabloids had campaigned vigorously against all things European, including metric road signs.

    Only on TV has there been any semblance of a balanced debate.

    Still, it is reassuring to know that there are probably more than three million independent thinkers out there.


  22. When those two masters of spin, the AA and the DfT, report on the same topic then expect fireworks. This recent article in “New Civil Engineer� did not disappoint.

    “Road condition surveys paint contrasting pictures

    Britain’s roads are either improving fast or getting ever worse according to two new, contrasting reports on the state of the network.

    A survey of 17 500 AA members says road surfaces are in a worse state than they were 10 years ago, while new statistics from the Department for Transport (DfT) show that the condition of local roads is improving.

    In the AA/Populus Panel survey published last week (early June 2008), 40% of respondents said the condition of the road network was much worse than 10 years ago, while only 2% thought road conditions had improved. …

    The DfT report on local roads says that condition of the network has improved every year since 2000 when funding started to improve again.

    Principal roads have improved from a defects index of 121.2 in 2000 to 71.3 in built up areas and 91.5 to 70.9 in non built up areas. …�


  23. Has anyone ever conducted a poll to see what is the preference for metric or imperial based on gender? I personally believe that most of your anti-metric types are women and that a majority of men will prefer metric.

    It seems that the majority of posters to this forum are men and they seem to be mostly if not all pro-metric. The one or two women who post here are all anti-metric.

    Industries that employ mostly men are all metric, such as engineering and the sciences, yet those that tend to employ mostly women are lagging, such as the clothing industry.

    Most shopping is done by women and as the result the metrication of the market place has not been smooth.

    Anyone agree or disagree with this observation?


  24. I am not aware of any research evidence to support Dan’s theory. These generalisations are very debatable. For example, the health service employs mainly women and is entirely metric for internal purposes. There appears to be some correlation between social class, educational attainment and willingness to use metric. It is also confused with political attitudes to the EU and to government regulation generally. I would guess that any differences between the attitudes of men and women are a reflection of these factors.


  25. i have an idea that would save money just put 30 mph signs in built up areas & schools then under the sign put a label saying km/h that would then be 20 mph ? then on non built up areas put 50mph signs up then put a label saying km/h it would be 31mph it would be the logical solution ?


  26. saw in one of the guides I’ve looked at recently was the height restriction sign showing both Imperial and metric above a 50 YRD notice sign. The foreign driver unfamiliar with Imperial is not likely to understand YRD (yerd???), nor will the UK driver be aware of the fact that the sign is actually posted exactly 50 meters (not 50 yards) from the bridge up the road!


  27. Lets face it, the UK is done for. We are no longer able to have a heritage, it is being stripped from us. Our long established highly-cultural measurements are being removed for these continental measures to remove the little heritage the UK had left. For example, we wouldnt ask India to stop eating out of their balti dishes, or chutney pots and replace them with bowls would we? No. That would be destroying their culture! Thats exactly whats happening here in the UK.


  28. J Stanner

    You claim that the ‘UK is done for’. No doubt your comments are based on what you read in the depressing British tabloid press who love putting us all on a downer and blaming it on others.

    First of all, if you think that the old Imperial system was exclusively British then dream on. The mile? Roman! Pounds and ounces? French! So not much to be proud of there then. The metric system? Devised by the Royal Society of London, prototype units made in London, and with the names of some of our most illustrious scientists and engineers commemorated in names of units eg Newton, Watt, Joule, Faraday & Kelvin. Furthermore, Margaret Thatcher herself decreed that only metric measurements should be taught in our schools.

    That was in 1974, and thanks to our adoption of the metric system we have been able to take advantage of massive inward investment. Do you think Honda, Toyora, Nissan/Renault and Airbus would have invested in the UK if we had insisted that we keep the old Imperial measurements in commerce?

    Britain is a country we can be proud of. Airbus wings are all designed here. Rolls Royce jets are world leaders. If you don’t feel the same then you can ways emigrate to Australia or New Zealand. But of course the 1st thing you will need to learn is the metric system. Both countries went metric a long time ago.


  29. J. Stanner should fear no more. Just as the world has absorbed so many aspects of British culture, the UK has absorbed culture from overseas. English-speaking people write with a Latin script and use Arabic numbers. The Judaeo-Christian heritage comes from Palestine, tea and coffee are imported from foreign lands and are drunk from china cups. The very English language has absorbed words from all over the world as it spread around the globe.

    And UK culture has changed and developed. Some time ago, people stopped burning witches, slavery and the slave trade were abolished, the law was changed so men could no longer beat their wives and the Julian calendar was superseded by the more accurate Gregorian calendar. Other changes have included the adoption of the motor car, the typewriter, the aeroplane, the computer and the internet.

    Now what about this new-fangled metric measure? Actually, some parts of it are older than some Imperial measures. The litre is actually an older measure than the Imperial Gallon! Imperial measures for electricity don’t even exist – all the measures are metric! If UK culture can survive all these changes, adopting metric measures are hardly likely to affect it adversely.

    But why change? Because the metric system is better, and even if you don’t like it, it’s taking over everywhere, just like those British impositions, the industrial revolution, parliamentary democracy and time zones based on the Greenwich Meridian.


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