Signs of the times

We compare the Government’s different approaches to two separate proposals for new road signs.

Readers of Metric Views may remember the Government’s rejection of proposals to phase out imperial-only height and width restriction traffic signs.:

It was estimated that this proposal would have saved up to £10 million as a result of a reduction in accidents, and it had the support of Network Rail, Highways Authorities and the Police. The then Secretary of State for Transport, The Rt Hon Philip Hammond MP, in rejecting the proposal, said:

“It’s bad enough that Labour were hell-bent on replacing feet and inches with metres. It is completely unacceptable that they were going to spend over £2m of taxpayers money to do so when we have one of the biggest budget deficits in Europe.“

Metric Views’ attention has now been drawn to a proposal to permit the erection of new signs to mark the boundaries of the administrative counties that disappeared in 1974. Last April, this idea received the approval of the current Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, The Rt Hon Eric Pickles MP. The announcement appears here:

Needless-to-say, there is no cost saving associated with this proposal. The press release suggests that local authorities could pay for the newly-authorized signs.

It might appear to some of our readers that Government policy on road signs defies logic in all respects except one: whether it is likely to win votes or lose them, and that in this it has something in common with Wednesday’s Budget. We couldn’t possibly comment.


6 thoughts on “Signs of the times”

  1. I seem to remember that the people who vandalise legitimate metric signs also started a campaign of vandalising road signs that marked the boundaries of the current counties. Interesting that Mr Pickles feels the need to play to that particular gallery.


  2. General election 7th May (and road metrication)

    Readers may want to know about my mini survey with local political candidates on road metrication and surprise surprise it would seem that the main local candidates did not realize that there is a problem and do not appear to have a manifesto policy topic on full road metrication, with comments such as “this has not come up before” and “not bread and butter politics” They did seem interested in what I had to say on the grounds of road safety and education with only one local candidate saying he would forward my concerns.

    My local issue concerns to candidates as follows-.

    1. While driving on the A20 between Folkestone and Dover and obeying the speed limit I was overtaken by many foreign registered vehicles, clearly exceeding the speed limit despite the speed cameras. Given the enormous number of foreign registered vehicles using this road, dual speed limits may be an answer or at least metric conversion information signs, mph to km/h (same as the ones on Jubilee way going away from Dover docks).
    2. Incorrect use of T as used on bridge signs in Kent and a great many other places.
    3. Miles needs to be written in full as m is used for metres in width restriction signs and bridge heights.

    One positive email answer as follows
    Thank you, a good discussion I have raised your points with the roads minister as I think you have made some important road safety points that they should consider and respond on.

    ( I wait with interest, they want my vote!! Its my view that there are not enough high profile MP’s on side to promote full metrication of our roads.)


  3. The election results essentially assure more of the muddle in Britain, I’m afraid.

    The only hope left for progress I think is if Scotland gets more separate powers that allow them to metricate road signs and after the next election in Scotland for parliament they decide to do so (a la the Irish Republic).


  4. If foreign drivers are driving over the speed limit it could be because they are looking at the MPH speed limits and doubling them. So 50 mph turns into 100 km/h (instead of 80 km/h) and 60 mph turns into 120 km/h). This might be pointed out to the authorities.


  5. @Michael Glass :

    You may very well be right, but the ‘appeasing the foreigners’ approach will not work – in fact, it may be counter-productive. After all, British drivers on the Continent get no leeway (especially from the French) in having to convert from mph to km/h – and this was true even 40 or more years ago when speedometers were in mph only.

    We really do need to find a way of finding out the economic cost to the nation of sticking with imperial road signs (the last major and most visible reminder that metrication is not quite complete in the UK). In the US, a number of sources have estimated that the US’s resistance to converting to SI costs it anywhere from 5% to 8% of its GDP, currently $17trillion annually. The UK’s economic hit will be much smaller (even as a proportion), due to the fact that we are mostly now metric, but there will still be a cost to the UK’s GDP of the population having to know some imperial in order to drive safely on the roads. That cost, incurred every year, will be many times the one-time cost to convert the road signs.


  6. @John Frewen-Lord, @Michael Glass
    It’s not only those who exceed the speed limit as discussed – and I also saw lots of foreign registered vehicles exceeding the speed limit on my visits to the UK.

    It is also possible for someone to misinterpret the mph speed limit itself as being in km/h. I have probably mentioned this in another thread, but I actually followed a driver doing this on the North Circular Road (when I used to live in the UK), and overtook him/her when it was safe. Before that I was wondering why he/she was driving so slowly, I worked out afterwards that it was 40 km/h instead of 40 mph this person was doing. It is lucky this was a dual carriageway, imagine the problems this would cause on a busy single carriageway.

    I agree regarding the need to calculate cost of retaining imperial road signs. I think we need to work out the cost to the transport sector and to society within the UK, as well as those incurred in neighbouring countries. Also important, in my view, is to calculate the annual benefit every year of metric road signs, including at an individual level when buying a vehicle, for example.


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