A call to legalise distance signage in metres on UK roads

Road signs in Britain closely follow international norms as laid out in the Vienna Convention on Road Signs and Signals. Where possible, language-independent symbolic signs are used so as to be as universally understood as possible. (Article contributed by Martin Ward).

Continue reading “A call to legalise distance signage in metres on UK roads”

Are UK height, width and weight restrictions enforceable?

A contributor asks whether the failure of UK signs to use the correct international symbols could enable lawyers to get their clients off fines for motoring offences.

One of the guiding principles of the SI Brochure [the manual of the BIPM – International Bureau of Weights and Measures, who regulate the metric system) is that each unit of measure should have its own unique symbol. All units of measure that are included have been allocated symbols. These symbols include:

  • T (upper case) – teslas (strength of a magnetic field)
  • t (lower case) – tonnes
  • ‘ (single apostrophe) – minutes of arc
  • ” (double apostrophe) – seconds of arc

(No symbol was allocated for “mile”, which should be written in full.)The SI manual formed the basis of the EU directive on metrication. When the British Government negotiated with the governments of our partners in the EU to retain the foot and inch, one of the clauses of the agreement extended the catalogue of units to include feet and inches for use in certain circumstances and subject to specified conditions. When they were incorporated into the catalogue, they were allocated the following symbols:

  • ft – Feet
  • in – inches

What has the UK Government done?
On height and width restriction signs, one sees feet and inches denoted by single and double apostrophes respectively, while on weight restriction signs, one sees “T” (upper case) used to denote tonnes on weight restriction signs (OK, the law permits a lower case “t”, but I have yet to actually see one on a road sign in Britain – the law in question is – Statutory Instrument 2002 No. 3113 – The Traffic Signs Regulations and General Directions 2002 – the “TSRGD”).

The TSRGD also allows the use of the symbol “m” sometimes to denote “mile” and sometimes “metre”.

To the best of my knowledge, this has yet to be tested in a United Kingdom court – if it were, would the court rule that these signs are unenforceable due to the technicality of the incorrect use of symbols? One must remember of course that under the European Communities Act 1972, the courts would be obliged to pass judgement “in accordance with the principles laid down by and any relevant decision of the European Court”.

If such a case heard in a UK court and the road signs declared unenforceable, the first people to be affected would be those people who live on a “rat-run” where heavy vehicles are prohibited by width and weight restriction signs. The councils representing such people can take preventative action against the these signs being declared unenforceable by ensuring that weight restriction signs use the lower case “t” to denote “tonnes” and that width restriction signs clearly display both metric and imperial units.

[Please note:
Neither the author nor UKMA are able to offer any formal legal advice. The views published above are the views of the author who has not had formal legal training. The UKMA do not necessarily endorse these views. If somebody wishes to pursue a matter based on these views through the courts, they should seek proper legal advice from their solicitor.]

[article submitted by MV]

Measurement muddle damages education

I recently received the following enquiry expressing concern about imperial conversions in school.

“My daughter brought home some homework last week which included learning some constants – e.g. 1kg = 1000g. Included in the list was 1kg = 2.2lb and 1 mile = 1.6km. I think it’s out of order for a school to be spending time on metric/imperial conversions. Imperial is dead and the school should help to bury it. Do I have a point, and should I talk to the teacher?”

[article by Phil Hall]

Continue reading “Measurement muddle damages education”

Metric howlers – Times hat-trick

When converting metric units into imperial units, journalists (or more likely sub-editors) are apt to make mistakes, especially if they are dealing with subjects with which they are not very familiar. On the 9th December 2006, The Times managed a hat-trick of blunders. [article contributed by MV]

Page 8 – Airlines should pay full cost of their pollution

The penultimate paragraph contained the text “[Boeing and Airbus] Aircraft use an average of four litres of fuel per 100 km”. This sentence should have raised the alarm bells – a consumption of 4 L/100 km is what one would expect of an economical car such as the Smart Car. (The imperial equivalent is 70 mpg!). If the writer used metric units when driving they would have spotted this howler.

Page 43 – Why the Dead Sea is dying

The fifth paragraph contains the phrase “to suck 1,900 million cubic metres (2.1 million cubic yards) of water”. This phrase contains two howlers. Firstly, a factor of 1000 seems to have gone missing. Secondly, the writer appears to have used a factor of 1.1 to convert cubic metres to cubic yards when the correct factor is 1.1 x 1.1 x 1.1 (which is equal to 1.331).

Page 44 – Spend a penny, but it make you think of a tenor

The third paragraph contains the sentence “The block, in Calcutta, is spread over 3,000 square metres (3,300 square yards) and is “. Here, the writer used a factor of 1.1 to convert square metres to square yards. The correct factor is 1.1 x 1.1 (which is equal to 1.21).

Football going metric?

Viewers of “Match of the Day” on 9 December had the unusual experience of hearing football commentary in metric. Was this an aberration or a straw in the wind? (asks Robin Paice)

There was an interesting exchange on “Match of the Day”

Three football pundits (Ray Stubbs, Alan Shearer and Mark Lawrenson) are discussing the “goal of the season” scored by Matthew Taylor for Portsmouth against Everton. Lawrenson is describing the volley, voice over an action replay: “straight as an arrow, like a rocket, dipping – here’s the measurement [screen shows 42 metres]. Similar thing at Sunderland last season, like an arrow, goalkeeper on his six yard box [sic] didn’t stand a chance [screen shows 39 metres], not quite so far but still a very good goal. He won’t score many better than that. 42 metres …

AS: By the way, I work in yards.

ML: [slightly condescending] It’s 42 lots of 39 inches.

AS: [to RS] Carry on then.

ML: It’s about 45 and a half yards, give or take.

RS: Have you just worked it out that quickly?

ML: No, I’ve been practising all day.

[All fall about laughing].

Football tends to be militantly imperial despite the fact that as the sport is relatively unknown in the USA, and despite the prominence of foreign players and managers in English and Scottish football, Britain and Ireland are the only countries in the world which still cling to expressions such as the “eighteen yard box” (meaning the penalty area). So it was encouraging, and perhaps we should thank Mark Lawrenson for introducing the footballing masses to the novelty of metric measurements – albeit it was treated somewhat light-heartedly – as though metres are not real measurements.

I would guess that the explanation for this unexpected foray into the world system was that the software used by the BBC in this instance was probably metric. It was easier to use it than try to amend it.

Anyway, thanks to Mark Lawrenson.