The Department for Transport has released road statistics for 2007 – and something jumped out at me as rather odd. All the headline figures are given as kilometres but in the UK we measure road distances in miles.
The national travel survey for 2006, also from the DfT, reported in miles. The road statistics report cited headline figures in kilometres when it debuted last year, but the discussion often mentioned miles and speed is indicated in mph.
The UK has a permanent exception from the EU direction on metrication in respect of road traffic signs, distance and speed measurement, so why does the DfT choose kilometres as its reporting measure?
The government was considering metrification back in the 1960s but cost of change is a big issue as is driver education (although there is no information on the number of drivers who have received no education in imperial measures).
It is reported that the EU is not pressing for the UK to complete the metrication process. But some, such as the UK Metric Association campaigns for a complete change over, whilst others, such as the British Weights & Measures Association oppose the compulsory use of metric measure.
Think Metric highlights the difficulties for many adults who were educated in the imperial system. The body also points out the challenges for children who are taught one system at school but find family and older people, plus the world outside, do not use metric consistently.
This week, another battle has emerged over the acre as a measure of land (since the 13th century). It is claimed it will be banned by the EU from 2010. I’m sure most British people have no idea the actual size of an acre, but we do like to resist change being portrayed as forced on us from outside. Mind you, the US is even more resistant to metrication than we are.
I confess to being someone who thinks in imperial measures – and recall many amusing DIY moments with my dad where we started in one system and got ourselves confused by linking into the other. Although most hardware products are sold in metric, we still thought of a piece of 4″x2″ wood as right for doing the job.
My mum always measures material in yards – actually stretching out her arm and measuring the length from her nose, bizarrely. When I drive in France, I mentally convert the distances and speedometer back into Imperial – and as for clothes and shoe sizes, I’m just totally lost.
Mind you, I hardly remember “old money” since decimalisation happened when I was at an age young enough to convert. And I wouldn’t have a problem with shifting to the Euro in practical terms as I hate having to swap between two currencies whenever I’m off to France.
I think it is the muddled approach that is most confusing and this affects clarity of communications. As a nation we muddle through resisting the simpler metric system and sticking with our rather quaint measures.
But would many of us know a perch from a chain or a peck from a bushel? And do you know the conversion rates from imperial to metric?
FYI: 1 kilometre = 0.6214 mile (which is 1760 yards). An acre is equal to 4,840 square yards, whilst a hectare is 10,000 square metres, or more than twice the size of an acre (2.4711 to be exact).