19 January 2014

Just How Metric is Britain?

With the average person giving their height in feet and inches, weighing their babies in pounds and ounces, quoting distances in miles, it is very easy to forget that the metric system is the official system of measurements throughout the United Kingdom. This begs the question: Why does the imperial system still dominate our speech?

To answer the sub question, I will focus primarily on road signs, the vast majority of which are in imperial measures (typically miles and yards). With these being the measurements which most people see on a day to day basis, it impacts the decision people make regarding measurements. Seeing miles and yards on the road is more likely to make an individual speak in miles and yards for distances - in spite of their education in metres and kilometres. This has the knock-on effect of using miles per gallon for fuel consumption (although you would struggle to find an imperial gallon anywhere around) and miles per hour for speed. This has wider impacts in the media too: for example, wind speeds being given in MPH, rural locations being quoted as x miles from the nearest town, etc. But I won't go off on a tangent.

The use of imperial road signs and speed limits is also rather illogical. Imperial warriors will claim that it is nonsensical to change speed limits and distances, however it is the maintenance of the use of imperial measures that is nonsensical. My reasoning for this statement is simple and will answer the question: Just how metric is Britain?

Roads in the United Kingdom are designed to metric specifications. Any road being built will have its length and breadth stated exclusively in metres or kilometres. If in doubt, you should be able to find the plans for most roads already built in the UK on the relevant local authority's website. Moreover, all roads have a design speed which is modelled and specified in kilometres per hour. (All widely-used traffic models in the UK use only km/h for speeds and km for distances). All of this information is then converted to miles and MPH for the signs which go on the road, reducing accuracy and quite frankly wasting resources.

So, just how metric is Britain?

More metric than most would like to think.

Our roads really are metric, despite what may would like to think - and just about everything else is too.