The Spanish government this week exposed the Department for Transport’s case against adopting metric road signs in the UK as flawed. While the DfT maintains that it must allow an average of around £1400 per sign to change our road signs, Spain this week changed all its motorway speed limit signs for an average cost of just €41, or £35.
As the UK Metric Association (UKMA) has reported before, the Department for Transport’s excuse for allowing the UK to cling on to imperial road signs has changed from driver comprehension (as the majority of drivers have now been educated in metric rather than imperial units) to the alleged cost. Their case is based on an estimate of changing our signs into metric equivalents which averages at around £1400 per sign, a figure which UKMA has already demonstrated bears no relation to past experience elsewhere including the Irish conversion to metric speed limits in 2005.
However, the Spanish government this week changed its motorway speed limit from 120 km/h to 110 km/h – unlike in the UK where motorway speed limits are generally unsigned, in Spain there are 6,000 motorway speed limit signs to amend.
The Spanish government adopted a pragmatic approach, with many signs changed by application of reflective vinyl overlays, and has completed the whole conversion in a single day at a cost of just €250,000. This equates to just €41, or £35, per sign.
By comparison, the DfT estimates that the basic cost per speed limit sign would be in excess of £500 – and to this it adds very large sums for items such as preparation, management, disposal and ‘optimism bias’ which results in the overall cost more than doubling to over £1,000.
Whilst UKMA accepts that there will inevitably be some differences in costs due to differing labour costs etc., the Spanish government has shown that where there is a will to drive down the cost of changing signs, a practical approach can lead to an average cost many times below that assumed in the DfT’s own cost estimates.
Given this, it is clear that the DfT’s rejection of metric speed limits on cost grounds is based on a false premise, and the question of posting metric speed limits for the benefit of all road users in a quick and cost effective manner should be revisited.