The ferocious attack on pounds and ounces over the past five years has obscured moves by the government against another major component of our traditional system, the use of miles by Britain’s road traffic, pedestrians, waterways and railways.
Many people are under the impression that, for the purposes of speed and distance signs, Britain enjoys an “indefinite exemption” from the EC’s metric conversion requirements. In almost all instances, including roads, we regret to report that this is not the case; the government has no guarantee from the EC that Britain cannot be compelled to convert to metric signs if the EC wishes. If, at any future point, the EC requires Britain convert to kilometres, Britain has no right of veto over this matter.
This fact may, or may not, be the reason for the government’s inability to make a statement of principle regarding the future use of miles and yards on Britain’s roads. When asked its position, the government says that it has no current plans to change road signs BUT that it will consider doing so when most drivers have been educated in metric. This will not be at least until 2010, but there is already growing evidence that the government is already gearing up for K-Day along Britain’s roads and highways.
BWMA is a consultee to Department of Transport consultations and has argued against moves towards metric conversion for reasons of safety and consistency. BWMA members have persuaded some local authorities to remove their unlawful signs. However, other groups, not convinced by government assurances, have launched campaigns of “direct action” against unlawful metric road and pedestrian signs. They argue that physical action is the only real means of defence against “K-Day”. One member of such a groups, has been charged by police for removing metric signs. BWMA can only support lawful acts, but we recognise that local authorities openly flout the law.
A significant break through was achieved in 2002 when campaign action forced the Department for Transport to issue a memo to all councils confirming that metric signs were unlawful.
With regards to signs along Britain’s canals and rivers, these are already caught by EC regulations and the government has dutifully made it clear that these will go metric accordingly. This is despite longstanding opposition by waterway preservation groups and the the cost and damage that metric conversion would cause to the waterways.
Metric is also on the advance on the railways and tramlines. Only in shipping and aviation do UK units seem secure; nautical miles, knots, and feet for measuring altitude, protected by international agreements and outside the scope of EC directives.