We begin the year with a cautionary tale – a recent incident that highlights a possible consequence of the UK’s ongoing measurement muddle.
A recent real-world court case involving a high-profile Premier League footballer, who was charged with speeding, has been widely reported in the media. This news story has been covered by Fox News, the London Evening Standard and many British national newspapers. Mesut Özil, an Arsenal player, was driving back home from training in his Mercedes-Benz G-Class car along the M1 motorway when he was pulled over for speeding. He was driving at a speed of 97 mph but wrongly thought that he was driving at 97 km/h, which would be equivalent to 60 mph and well within the motorway speed limit. The top speed limit in the UK is 70 mph.
Özil wrote to Bromley Magistrates Court and this is what he said:
“When attempting to rationalise my actions, I believe it was the combination of the empty road, with no other vehicles to gauge my vehicle’s speed against, and the misapprehension that I was travelling kmph (sic) rather than mph.
Due to the Covid-19 restrictions the motorway was effectively empty. The only explanation that I can give is that due to the absence of other vehicles on the road, my concentration must have momentarily lapsed.
The vehicle I was driving has very low engine noise and it is automatic transmission.
I am a German national and I am obviously used to driving vehicles that would display speed in kilometres as compared to miles per hour.
I do not suggest that this in any way excuses my driving on the day at all — I fully accept that the speed my vehicle was travelling is wholly unacceptable.”
Bromley Magistrates Court fined Özil £1,000, gave him six points on his driving licence and ordered him to pay £100 in costs and a £100 court surcharge. He has escaped a driving ban.
He surely cannot be the only foreign driver who mixed up kilometres and miles. How many other times has this happened on British roads? This case has been widely reported by the media because it involved a famous footballer. Fortunately, the roads were almost empty and nobody was hurt. However, it could have been fatal. When other foreign drivers confuse kilometres and miles, drive too fast as a result and get caught for speeding, these cases do not get reported.
It is the first time I have heard of a speeding case involving a mix-up of kilometres and miles. If we had fully converted our road signs to metres and kilometres in the 1970’s as planned this case, and others like it, would have been avoided.
For years, the UK Department for Transport (DfT) has claimed:
“We do not consider that diverting funding from high priority areas for the metrication of traffic signs is justified – not least as there is no evidence that the use of the mile presents a safety risk to road users. Only if it did would this Government reconsider its policy in this respect – at which point we would, of course, produce a comprehensive estimate of the likely costs involved.”
This case disproves the DfT’s claims and proves that there is a potential risk of confusing kilometres and miles, especially by foreign drivers driving British cars who are used to thinking and using kilometres. After the Özil case, will it now reconsider?