February 28, 2006

Miles vs Kilometres

There's been a lot of talk recently about changing road signs from Miles to Kilometres to bring us line with the rest of Europe for the 2012 Olympics.

Sounds like a load of rubbish to me.

If we're doing road signs, why not other things – which songs would the EU like to see brought up to metric standards?

The Who – I can see for kilometres and kilometres and kilometres
The Proclaimers – And I would walk 500 Kilometres
Someone else – I'd walk a million kilometres just for one of your smiles, Mammy

Just doesn't scan like 'miles'

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  1. He is centimetring towards the finish line?

    28 Feb 2006, 12:25

  2. Any idea Neil Kinnock supports is more often than not bullshit. Why spend money on conversion? Just because Europe does it why should we?

    28 Feb 2006, 12:39

  3. Kinnock's just bitter because he lost the '92 election even though everyone thought Labour would win it.

    He wants his kilogram of flesh.

    28 Feb 2006, 13:22

  4. Marc

    The point is that the system is more logical and more widely spread than miles.

    28 Feb 2006, 13:37

  5. No but spending 700,000 of govt funds, physically sending people out to change signs and overlooking cultural considerations and tradition is not a logical move nor is it one the taxpayer would ever support.

    28 Feb 2006, 14:41

  6. It may logical but does that make it right? I was taught in metric but think about the world in Imperial.

    Have we really been held back because we effectively operate a dual system. Those who need to work in metric do so and has society collapsed because the rest of us continue to think in miles?

    I like the difference between us and the continent. It makes both feel special. It may be mre accurate and scientific and logical to use a single system – but where's the fun in that.

    Surely the EU has more important things to spend its time on.

    And BTW - I am a big fan of Europe and the European project – just don't understand why it feels the need to dictate how I measure the distance to the pub where I can get a litre of my approved local EU sourced generic ale product.

    Get on with the serious stuff people.

    28 Feb 2006, 14:44

  7. Allan Smith

    Surely the Proclaimers would now have to walk 804.67km, and 804.67 more?

    28 Feb 2006, 16:12

  8. Allan – I couldn't be arsed to do the maths, but I am glad you did :-)

    It's not as poetic is it.

    28 Feb 2006, 16:18

  9. Allan Smith

    Very true.

    I reckon Bacharach had his head screwed on with 24 Hours from Tulsa. No messing there.

    28 Feb 2006, 16:49

  10. There's just something cold and clinical about 'kilometre'.

    Try "the endless kilometres'

    as opposed to the

    "the endless miles"

    And what rhymes with kilometre

    Miles – Smiles, Piles (which don't make you smile…), files, riles, tiles, bile, guile, and so on…

    Won't someone please think about the poets!!!!

    28 Feb 2006, 17:00

  11. Marc

    Firstly, the cost is a drop-in-the-ocean in terms of government expenditure. Secondly, anyone who has an emotional/linguistic attachment to a particular way of measuring the distance of A to B should probably be shot for the good of all concerned.

    28 Feb 2006, 18:02

  12. Firstly, the cost is a drop-in-the-ocean in terms of government expenditure.

    You could say that to justify wasting money on anything. It's not a good attitue to have. As a taxpayer, it would be a waste of my money, and I think the great majority of taxpayers would agree with me.

    Secondly, anyone who has an emotional/linguistic attachment to a particular way of measuring the distance of A to B should probably be shot for the good of all concerned.

    And anyone who thinks we should change our system of measurements just to please a bunch of foreign politicians and a loser like Kinnock should be hung, drawn and quartered.

    You're not French by any chance, are you? :)

    28 Feb 2006, 18:18

  13. The Proclaimers And I would walk 500 Kilometres

    Shouldn't that be "And I would walk 804.672 kilometers" :-)

    It does seem like a bit of a waste of time (and money) to go out and replace every single roadsign.

    01 Mar 2006, 02:34

  14. I can only judge things in miles. Like I look at a person and they are 0.0045 miles tall. I can't do kms man. Miles are part of our heritage, like roundabouts.

    01 Mar 2006, 03:09

  15. Allan Smith

    Oh Nick, that's so yesterday at 16.12…

    01 Mar 2006, 09:37

  16. This might be going off the point fractionally but there's a great line I read about Gabriel Farenheit the other day – apparently he died when he was 50… but maintained to the last that he was 122.

    Shall bugger off now to buy my 3.408 litres of milk. Anyone up for 0.568 litres of Karlsberg/ Guiness/ Fosters/ Carling this evening?

    On the other hand the metric system is undeniably more rational when doing calculus.. How many quarts are there in a pint, exactly??? (i.e. were you listening attentively to David Dimbelby on Question Time last Thursday?) (btw. 12"=1ft ; 3ft = 1yd ; 22yds = 1 chain ; 10 chains = 1 furlong ; 8 furlongs or 1760 yds = 1 mile ; 3 miles = 1 league – and thats just units of length!)

    01 Mar 2006, 11:48

  17. Also…

    Is kilometres pronounced as

    1) Kil – om – et – ers


    2) ki – lo – mee – ters


    01 Mar 2006, 12:55

  18. or 3) Ki – lom – e – ters?

    01 Mar 2006, 13:14

  19. marty smith

    I find this:

    16 dram = 1 ounce
    16 ounces = 1 pound
    14 pounds = 1 stone
    2 stone = 1 quarter
    4 quarters =1 hundred weight
    20 hundredweight = 1 ton

    much easier to remember than this:

    100 grammes = 1 kilogrammes
    1000 kilogrammes = 1 tonne

    01 Mar 2006, 13:39

  20. I can't quite see the connection between changing our road signs to kilometeres and not being able to use imperial measurements in practice or in speech.

    If foreigners confuse MPH with kilomerers they will be driving more slowly than the maximum speed so they stay within the law and arguably it is safer.

    When we drive in Europe the equivalent mistake has the opposite effect so maybe they should change to miles and the world will be a safer place and the police can spend their time on non-motoring offences.

    Ed, as for Neil Kinnock being bitter over the '92 election it was that defeat that spawned New Labour which has consigned the Tories to opposition for the last eight years and most likely for the next eight as well.

    Perhaps not an election win the Tories should be proud of.

    01 Mar 2006, 15:02

  21. kill – om – it – ers, surely!

    + rofls @ marty's comment!!

    01 Mar 2006, 15:04

  22. a satellite once basically self-destructed because of errors converting between imperial and metric…
    food for thought?

    01 Mar 2006, 17:15

  23. Ah, the wonders of cross-atlantic communication!

    Imperial America and Metric Europe!

    01 Mar 2006, 17:57

  24. William Starling

    Just because NASA doesn't know the difference bettween miles and km, you shouldn't underestimate your average European tourist who is usually fully aware of the imperial system. And how many Brits do you know who don't know that Europe runs on km?

    01 Mar 2006, 18:57

  25. James Kilometres.

    No, it's rubbish. I'm against this.

    01 Mar 2006, 20:21

  26. I read about this in Metro this morning, some idiot saying that ppl who learn to drive don't understand what miles are and thus are inherently more dangerous. Complete twoddle in my opinion. Was interesting to note that we're taught in metric, but I've recieved no education at all in imperial units. Not that this makes me dangerous at all to society or other road users, but it should either be taught or left to die.

    01 Mar 2006, 23:04

  27. MILES.

    all the fuckin way.

    kms are for cunts.

    02 Mar 2006, 01:11

  28. LOZZLE!!

    02 Mar 2006, 04:34

  29. Metric for science and exact measurements, imperial for day-to-day life and rough estimates.

    02 Mar 2006, 10:17

  30. Robert O'Toole

    Try this out. Find a straight road on which you can see distinct points leading far into the distance. Now try to estimate the distance to the furthest land mark in miles and in kilometres. Next, work out the real distance to the landmark.

    Which estimate is more accurate?

    In my experience, its easier to estimate kilometres. When doing a long slow journey in a wide open empty land I've found estimating kilometres to be particularly easy.

    Is this universal? If so why should it be the case? Any scientists or psychologists got an idea?

    02 Mar 2006, 16:28

  31. You've just given somebody their fourth year master's project there!

    03 Mar 2006, 00:16

  32. I dunno, saying I'm 1.93 metres tall is nowhere near as cool as saying I'm 6'3"...

    03 Mar 2006, 12:56

  33. Approaching it the other way, though, if you told me something was five miles away it would mean much more to me than saying it was eight kilometres away.

    03 Mar 2006, 14:43

  34. well if we're all gunna change to miles to keep the EU happy, does this mean we have to change the side of the road we drive on aswell.
    The UK has always been an island, proud to be individual, happy to hold its head high
    We lose to many of the things that make britain 'british', and its these quirks that keep people coming here as tourists. If we turn into 'just another european country' where will that leave us??

    03 Mar 2006, 22:40

  35. "well if we're all gunna change to miles to keep the EU happy, does this mean we have to change the side of the road we drive on aswell."

    Unlikely. The cost of re-engineering our road network to cope with this would run into the billions and cause massive destruction. Britain has over 150,000 miles of road network I believe; can you imagine the cost of re-engineering it all (and the technicalities of the switch) to do that? Not only that, but as soon as you switched we'd all be sited on the wrong side of the car. I find it implausible that we're going to switch to kilometers as well – road signs are surprisingly expensive. Again, can you imagine the cost of resigning all speed limits and distance markers? The big motorway boards cost over a grand each I think, and that's before you've sent a load of men out to take down the old one and put the new one up. Estimate how much all that costs and I think you'll find that for the sake of compliance with the EU it's not worth it!

    04 Mar 2006, 12:59

  36. Marc

    "well if we're all gunna change to miles to keep the EU happy, does this mean we have to change the side of the road we drive on aswell."

    Assuming you meant to write kilometres, no. They are different things. Diff-er-ent.

    "The UK has always been an island, proud to be individual, happy to hold its head high"

    The UK is actually spread across lots of places, and the British mainland was physically connected to Europe in 6500 BC. And there's no reason to be proud of being different just for the sake of it.

    "We lose to many of the things that make britain 'british', and its these quirks that keep people coming here as tourists. If we turn into 'just another european country' where will that leave us??"

    I can just imagine the tourists now: "Well, yes, I would have gone to Britain on holiday this year but Stonehenge, the London Eye, and the Lake District just seem much shittier now they are officially measured in kilometres.

    04 Mar 2006, 17:01

  37. Just because Europe has metric road signs is not a reason in itself for adopting them. However, the fact that metric measures are far more logical and simple to understand than their imperial equivalents, combined with the fact that Britain has already gone metric in every other respect would seem to make it a sensible proposition. Furthermore, as someone who has never been taught the metric system at school, I have no idea as to what a yard or mile represents, nor in fact how many yards there might be to a mile – I would therefore find metric speeds and distances far more intuitive.

    The only argument against such a change, which admittedly is a very strong one, is that it is not really one which could be phased in gradually hence making it somewhat costly. As for the inconvenience to existing motorists, I'd say this would be fairly negligible as all cars have both mph and kmh markings on their speed dials.

    This is possibly the most boring and unimaginative comment ever. Never mind.

    06 Mar 2006, 18:26

  38. Vivek Hajarnavis

    Wikipedia have a couple of interesting article on metrication here – link and here

    These articles suggest that we took our first steps to metrication in the 1800's (wikipedia is referencing a book so one assumes there is at least some accuracy in the statement) so one interpretation is that the European Commission is telling us to get on with and complete a project which we started a long time ago.

    As far as I know, there are only two countries in the world which have not adopted the kilometre as the means for measuring distance – the United States and the United Kingdom. The United States, well enough said – they do their own thing and seem perfectly happy to use their own units. We on the other hand have opted for a peculiarly-British hybrid of imperial and metric (fuel consumption in miles per litre anyone?).

    Some thoughts then:

    1. There is an argument that we can't understand metric measures of distance. Yet the rest of the world can. So either we are all a bit mentally challenged, or alternatively it is a reflection on our educational system – why else wouldn't we be able to understand measures which most other people in the world can use without any difficulty whatsover?

    2. Is there some dark force surrounding Great Britain which means that when we are on these shores we can't understand the kilometre? We manage to cope just fine when we are abroad…

    3. Or is it simply a case that everyone else in the world (United States excepted) copes better with change than we do?

    06 Mar 2006, 18:27

  39. " I have no idea as to what a yard or mile represents, nor in fact how many yards there might be to a mile"

    Well you don't really need to. All distances are given in miles only on UK roads. If you drive on them, you soon get an idea of how long a mile is. Comparison between the two is simple – if you can judge km then divide by 1.6 to get miles, or vice versa. Yards you can basically take as metres when given signs such as "junction 200 yards" if you really need to judge that accurately. There are 1760 yards in a mile. The conversions between different imperial units, in spite of what most people say, are simple and require only basic mathematics. It never ceases to amaze me the number of people who look blank when I estimate distances in feet and inches, as if I'm speaking a foreign language. Seriously it's easy – an inch is 2.54cm, 12 inches to a foot (which is 30.48cm), 3 feet to a yard (91.5cm), 6 feet to a fathom, 1760 yards to a mile (5280 feet or 1611m) and 6080 feet to a nautical mile (1.85km). Nautical miles in particular make sense as they are derrived from the earth's geometry (1 nautical mile is one minute of latitude at the equator)

    06 Mar 2006, 18:50

  40. Vivek – It's the Dark Force thing – have you not seen it? Get a ferry across the channel and about half way across you get this weird burning sensation and the urge to smack your head against hard objects.

    It's either the dark force or the ferry's steak and kidney pudding.

    Note that the Channel Tunnel is a dastardly attempt by the French to get around our special Dark Force.

    Apparantly the DF was set up by Churchill during the war – and you thought it was Radar that won it – ha! Seems they forgot to turn it off.

    06 Mar 2006, 19:48

  41. Rob Glass

    Encouraging your staff to go "the extra kilometre" just doesn't cut it for me.

    07 Mar 2006, 11:47

  42. To those who've cited the cost argument – I believe that the cost of conversion on our roads would only run to 0.7% of the Government's annual transport budget. Cost isn't really an issue.

    But I do think we should keep the miles though!

    08 Mar 2006, 16:31

  43. Where did you find that figure Guy? I find it rather hard to believe personally!

    08 Mar 2006, 19:09

  44. Moz

    Without meaning to sound like a Daily Mail reader (when in fact I'm far from being one!), if it's being suggested we change to kilometres for the sake of our European pals, here's a thought- there are more British people in Britain than people of other EU nationalities. Surely it's more important to please the majority in this case than people in other countries who occasionally come visit us? Otherwise I propose that any tourist spot continually sieged by pisshead British tourists becomes part of the UK, changes their currency to the pound and THEIR road signs to miles. :P

    09 Mar 2006, 22:37

  45. Lissy

    So totaly, like so yeah! Oh, um, are well bla blab bla blab bla blab bla!

    10 Mar 2006, 06:18

  46. Liss

    Well I think that a lot of people have probabaly learnt miles, there for it dosn't really matter waht it is, all that matters is what will be easier for everyone else, you know what I'm saying?

    10 Mar 2006, 06:21

  47. To Christopher,


    Don't know how to do links – but thats the story I read. Ok, I was out – they said 0.27% – I know this was the UK Metric Association, but as the story points out, Ireland managed to do it pretty cheaply.

    13 Mar 2006, 12:20

  48. So the report suggests that the government, classically underestimating costs, reckons it can do it for a tenth of the government figures? The government's figures work out at about 1500/sign, which I find believable. The article suggests that it's nearer to 150/sign, which I would judge to be hopelessly optimistic. Do we really need to spend three quarters of a billion pounds just to have distances in km instead of miles? Forgive me but I think that's metrication gone crazy.

    13 Mar 2006, 19:12

  49. I'm all for miles, and to be honest I'd be completely confused if we switched to kilometers, but realistically speaking what with the ever-increasing force that is globalisation, I reckon it's pretty inevitable that we will have to make the imperial to metric leap at some point. The longer we leave it, the more it'll cost as more and more roads are built. And I'm sure us old school imperial kids would adapt eventually! (Though to be fair I was taught metric at school…how confusing!)

    13 Mar 2006, 23:19

  50. I have to say I do find it a bit annoying that I know my weight in metric but my height in imperial.

    14 Mar 2006, 00:08

  51. Vivek Hajarnavis

    Luke – I know – I'm exactly the same. Though I'm now making a determined effort to memorise the figure 178cm…

    Eleanor – understand your sentiments about being completely confused in the event of of a switch. Though does beg the question as to how countries like India, Australia and Ireland managed it – all comparatively recently – without everyone getting completely confused?

    15 Mar 2006, 18:52

  52. Michael Jones

    "Secondly, anyone who has an emotional/linguistic attachment to a particular way of measuring the distance of A to B should probably be shot for the good of all concerned."

    Try running/walking from A to B when they happen to be 26 miles 385 yards apart. Now repeat that a few times, and you may well find that it is quite difficult not to get an emotional attachment to it. It's rather harder to get attached to completing a course of 42.194988km.

    The last few years have seen the first cricket ball to be bowled at over 100mph and the first temperature in excess of 100oF recorded in Britain. Would there have been quite so much excitement over a ball bowled at 160.9344km/h or a temperature above 37.7777777oC?

    Who cares what other countries have done/are doing? The imperial system was here first and we'll stick with it. If other people are too feeble to cope with a few little sums and want to use something nice and simple which was dreamed up by a bunch of cheese-eating surrender monkeys (possibly the reason why the Yanks don't use it) a couple of centuries ago, that's up to them, but don't expect us to do likewise.

    16 Mar 2006, 01:59

  53. I don't see any need to change our informal uses, since the only difference it would make is to annoy those that have an emotional attachment to historical units. However, the way American textbooks tend to use imperial units in technical work seriously gets on my nerves. You just end up with pages and pages of conversion factors that just make everything look pants…

    16 Mar 2006, 22:01

  54. For every day measurements the Imperial system actually has many benefits. You have a yard of string and wish to split it evenly into 3 – easy a foot, and into 4 – 9" each part and so on. In the Metric system you can never split things easily into 3s etc. The Babylonians used to have a system of counting that worked base 60 instead of our base 10 system. Therefore for them it was easy to divide things into 2,3,4,5,6,10,12,15,30 far more useful in everyday life.

    Also consider what our numeracy was like when we had to measure for every day objects in feet and pounds and pints, and then pay in pounds shillings and pence. You could either add up or you got short changed, it kept us (or our parents) on our toes.

    20 Mar 2006, 12:24

  55. link

    Maybe this system would work better…

    30 Mar 2006, 11:27

  56. Brad

    Christopher Sigournay:

    Well you don't really need to. All distances are given in miles only on UK roads.

    What about "Exit 600 yards" and signs like that? Lots of temporary roadworks signs have distances in yards. They always get me, I have no clue about yards.

    Personally, I find metres and kilometres easier, but I still think in miles, and it would take a lot to change that. And I think the cost is a huge hurdle that the government might not want to cross. Somebody else mentioned that Ireland seemed to manage is ok, but I think there are just a few more roadsigns in the UK than in Ireland…

    31 Mar 2006, 14:09

  57. Brad – Short distances are indeed given in yards, my bad. If you don't understand yards, think 1 yard = 1 metre and you won't be far wrong. The difference of 8 and a bit percent shouldn't make an awful great difference unless you're using distance markers to try and brake like Michael Schumacher. Easy :-)

    31 Mar 2006, 14:38

  58. Phil Ryan

    You guys are amazing, and sounding way too much like your American cousins who have been whingeing for 30 years about the metric system.

    The world (i.e. 199 out of the 200 countries in the UN, or whatever the current number is) use the metric system.

    One nation uses miles, feet, pounds, inches and so forth. And that nation is that recalcitrant nation of rednecks on the Western side of the Atlantic.

    As for speech, who woud ever talk about "fluid ounces of medicine" or cubic inches of engine capacity any more? It's CCs, or litres, for both.

    And how many furlongs tall are you? 1.8 m sounds plenty to me.

    How many roods across is your property? 100 m is fine.

    If you think about it, "mile" is just a broken version of the French "mille", standing for 1000 double–paces (i.e. left foot, then right foot), as measured by the Romans. So the modern kilometre, also based on one–thousand, could also be called (at least by the French) a "mille".

    All those songs don't refer to an actual distance…. and "one thousand miles" parses about the same as "one thousand kays"... so, it is time to GET OVER IT!

    23 May 2006, 12:30

  59. Phil Ryan

    And if you want some really loopy support for NOT changing the mile post markers to kays, maybe you should go to


    where your Freedom to continue using silly measuing systems is forthrightly expounded.

    23 May 2006, 12:35

  60. bill collins

    Canadians…call e'm kays or klicks an English speaking country run by the French.
    England needs Kms like it a hole in the head.

    keep the pound,yard,pint,furlong,hundredweight …..etc and bollocks to the EU.

    21 Jul 2006, 17:55

  61. doug

    Ah Londres 100Km tres bon.
    Now where do we get the frogs legs?

    21 Jul 2006, 18:14

  62. Richard Hall

    Oh my backward England! If you had asked people back in the sixties if they wanted decimal currency they would have used all the nationalistic arguements above. Thank God it went ahead anyway! The metric system is not about Europe, it is about a simple WORLDWIDE system for all. So many little Englanders do not know, or pretend to forget that Canada, New Zealand, Australia, South Africa, Ireland..oh hang on, all countries bar the USA use km and m on their road signs. Brits do not really care about imperial measurements, they use it as an excuse to be xenophobic. Where were the protests when in Thatcher’s Conservative Britain litres replaced gallons at all the nations pertol stations? There were no protests what so ever, no Daily Mail campaign even! Who cares about the fluid ounce nearly dead in 2006? No one. Metric is the way ahead, and it will arrive.. it is arriving, even in backward Britain!

    12 Aug 2006, 18:23

  63. adf

    shit heads! Go metric and spare everyone for Ur chit-chat-shit! Loose your guns as well.. stupid us/uk ppl.

    16 Mar 2007, 11:11

  64. Loose

    In after retarded fail of epic proportions.

    16 Mar 2007, 12:40

  65. steve

    Shame on America for not going metric sooner, like when Bush Senior and Reagan purposed switching the US over. Time to get on with the show. Miles are more confusing then kilometers. Americans just don’t want to admitt it. When are we going to finally switch over?

    05 Nov 2007, 03:09

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