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Ireland's Metric Road Signs - Questions and Answers


In anticipation of the Republic of Ireland's conversion to metric speed limit signs on 20 January 2005, BWMA has put a number of questions to the country's Minister for Transport Séamus Brennan. The purpose of these questions is to increase BWMA's understanding of Ireland's conversion process so that we can more effectively prevent metric road sign conversion from occurring in Britain.
Séamus Brennan (www.fiannafail.ie)
1) BWMA: It is our understanding that Ireland changed its distance signs some ten years ago, and is now changing its speed signs. We are also aware that Ireland is bound by EC Directive 80/181 in this matter (as is Britain). However, the EC Directive does not set a date. Why is Ireland adopting metric now and in recent times, rather than at a much future point, as the Directive permits?
Department of Transport: As you point out, in the field of application of road traffic signs for speed and speed measurement and road traffic signs for distance, the relevant EU 'Units of Measurement' Directives, with their origins in 80/181/EEC on the approximation of the laws of Member States relating to units of measurement, gave discretion to any State that was using the imperial units of measurement system to continue using that system until the country itself fixed a date to convert to the use of the metric system. In 1992 the Minister for Industry and Commerce, pursuant to those Directives, made regulations determining dates for the conversion to metric units in several fields of application and, in the case of traffic signs (both for speed and distance) the Minister determined that imperial units could be used until 31 December 1998 and not hereafter.

The provision of traffic directional signs displaying distance measurement in kilometres (km) commenced over a decade ago - at this point directional signs on national routes display distance in km. Some mile distance signs still exist on the non-national road network but these are being replaced with kilometre signs with a view to having all converted by end 2005.
 
2) What consultation process did the Irish government undertake with the motoring public, industry and special groups on setting a date?
No general or targeted consultation processes were held in 1992 - the policy decision was taken by the Minister for Industry and Commerce to progress metrication across the board. An information leaflet on the Metric System and the international units of measurement was published by the Department for Industry and Commerce.
 
3) Have you undertaken any survey work on this matter (eg public opinion polls)?
No public opinion surveys were undertaken.
 
4) When did the government make its first public announcement that the Ireland would switch to metric signage?
The regulations referred to at 1) above are the European Communities (Units of Measurement) Regulations 1992 (S.I. No. 255 of 1992) made on 9 September 1992. The publication of these regulations (providing for the phased withdrawal of practically all remaining imperial units of measurement) announced the new policy measures to the public.

A Speed Limit Metrication Changeover Task Force (with representation from the main stakeholders including the motor industry) is currently overseeing the implementation of the metrication project.
 
 
5) How many distance and speed signs are there that need changing, and how is the physical conversion to take place? For instance, will old signs be dug up?
As indicated at 1) above the conversion of distance signs is well advanced - nearly all of the directional signs on the national road network are in metric values. The policy for over a decade has to provide all new signs in metric values and to apply this policy also in the case where the need for replacement of signs arises. The 34 individual road authorities are responsible for the conversion of the residual of milepost signs by end 2005. I do not have a figure for the total number involved. The Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government is into year 3 of a five-year programme for improved directional signage on regional roads so the conversion to metric signage is being captured in the provision of new traffic signs under this programme. The policy has been to use existing poles where possible for replacement of directional signs and to erect a new sign plate displaying figures and the 'km' unit.

At present there are over 35,000 imperial speed limit signs in place plus over 2,500 speed limit signs combined in traffic calming gateway signs. It is proposed to replace the imperial sign plates with metric sign plates on all existing signs. In addition, if the revised speed limit structures that are set out in the Road Traffic Bill 2004 are approved, an additional 20,000+ speed limit signs will be required mainly for provision at the junction between every national and non-national road.
 
6) What is the situation with regards to signs giving vehicle height, width and length restrictions (eg just before a bridge)? Are these in feet and inches or metres and centimetres?
The current road traffic regulations provide that traffic signs indicating height restrictions at bridges etc display dual systems i.e. metric in metre and centimetre units and also imperial feet and inches. There is no proposal to change these signs to display metric only.
 
7) What is happening with regards to speedometers and mil-o-meters in private cars? Older cars may have miles only. On newer cars, miles are (presumably) more prominent. Is the law being changed to compel conversion, or can people continue with existing dials? If change is required, who will finance the cost? Will motorists have to visit garages to change the dials, etc?
The motor industry will be requiring that new cars entering into service post 1 January 2005 will have metric speedometers. There will be no legal requirement imposed on motorists to retro-fit new metric speedometers in existing vehicles that have mile per hour only or dual mile/metric speed measurement indications.
 
8) Has the government encountered any opposition to its policy on metric signs? If so, by whom?
No opposition has been encountered to the policy on metric signs apart from ... the fact that the prevailing situation where most distance signs are in kilometres and all speed signs are in miles per hour has provided fodder for criticism/ridicule in sporadic press articles, letters to the editor etc and in some correspondence from the public to the Department. Occasionally some members of the public lament the changes being brought about and the removal of the old signs or more to the point criticise expenditure being incurred in this area perceiving that there are more urgent needs for public money. There has been virtually no anti-metric sentiments or any anti-EU sentiment in the context of the metrication of road traffic signs.
 
9) What are the costs of conversion? If you could break the costs down between signs, labour, car dials, public education, etc, that would be helpful.
The proposed provision of 58,000 metric speed limit signs and 19,000 new posts for the metrication of speed limits will cost up to 9 million euro. A Government public awareness and information campaign will cost in the region of 1.5 million euro but of course all of the 34 individual road authorities and all of the main agencies such as the National Safety Council, motor industry, Automobile Association, Government Departments etc would provide information to the public also and link into a central metrication website and optimise every opportunity for multi-media coverage.
 
10) What steps is the government taking to prevent accidents arising from metric signs?
See 9) above.
 
11) Do you foresee any difficulties in enforcing speed limits? For instance, how will police and courts deal with a motorist who drives at (say) 60 miles per hour in a 60 kph zone, and claims that he was misled by the new signs?
The new metric speed limit signs will display the value in figures and also the unit 'km/h' to depict kilometres per hour. A new style font will be used also to distinguish the metric signs from the present speed limit signs. Special information signs will be provided at cross-border roads and at points of entry to Ireland such as airport and ferry ports to inform visitors/motorists that speed limits are in kilometres per hour. The new km/h speed limits will be enforced in full by the Garda Síochána from the outset.
 
12) Finally, the Republic of Ireland shares a lengthy land border with Northern Ireland. Is the Irish government taking any steps to deal with any misunderstanding that may arise from having two systems on the same length of road?
See 11) above. The Department of Transport is liasing with the authorities in Northern Ireland in relation to the proposed metrication of speed limits.
 
BWMA expresses its thanks to the staff of the Irish Department of Transport for the above information
 
Related links:
www.gometric.ie (the Irish government's metric conversion website)
www.transport.ie (the website for the Irish Department of Transport)

More information: the metric conversion process (again supplied by Department of Transport)

In 1992, statutory responsibility for road traffic law was within the remit of the Minister for the Environment and Local Government. In the period between 1992 and 1998 a new Road Traffic Act was enacted in 1994, a comprehensive Traffic Signs Manual was published in December 1996 and following a parallel review and consolidation of road traffic and parking regulations and of road traffic signs regulations, new sets of regulations in this area were made in 1997. In addition the Minister published the first national Road Safety Strategy to cover the five-year period 1998-2003.

The Department of the Environment and Local Government informed the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment that metrication of road traffic signs for speed and distance on the public road network could not be attained before 31 December 1998. The Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment made amending regulations to defer the 31 December 1998 deadline to June 2001. The Department of the Environment and Local Government set up a Working Group on Metrication of Speed Limit and Traffic Signs in 2000 to make recommendations on the steps necessary to advance metrication of speed limits and on the resourcing and timing of these steps. The implementation deadlines were subsequently referred again to 31 December 2002 for speed limits and 31 December 2005 for distance signs.

A new Road Traffic Act was enacted in April 2002. Statutory responsibility for road traffic law was transferred to the Minister for Transport in June 2002. The Minister for Transport in prioritising his new portfolio decided that the metrication of speed limits should await until end 2004 following a review of the Road Safety Strategy 1998-2002 and the planned introduction of penalty points system for speeding offences in 2003 pursuant to the Road Traffic Act 2002. The Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment fixed new statutory dates in 2002 to the effect that imperial units may be used on road traffic signs for speed and speed measurement until 31 December 2004 and on signs for distance measurement until 31 December 2005.

The Minister for Transport decided to use the opportunity afforded by the proposed conversion of speed limits to metric values by 31 December 2004 to carry out a review of the present speed limit structures and policies. A review was carried out in 2003 and a copy of the report of the Working Group is available on the Department's website at www.transport.ie via link of Roads\Publications.

A Road Traffic Bill 2004 (No. 23 of 2004) was published by the Minister for Transport on 11 June - it contains proposals for revised speed limit structures in metric values largely based on the recommendations made in the report of the Working Group on the Review of Speed Limits. In essence the Bill provides for application of the following maximum road speed limits:

120 km/h motorways
100 km/h national roads
80 km/h non-national roads (regional and local roads)
50 km/h built-up area

Specials of 120/100/80/60/50/30 km/h may be applied in lieu of the four default speed limits above through local authority speed limit bye-laws or by means of road works speed limit order.

The rather protracted history of the path towards metrication of road traffic signs as outlined above has been tracked in the Houses of the Oireachtas (parliament) over the years - Parliamentary Questions have been tabled at various points seeking information for the public record on the progress being made to deliver on metrication. Metrication of traffic signs has sporadically featured in press articles over the years expressing criticism, in particular, of the fact that a homogenous road traffic signage system is long overdue to have speeds displayed in kilometres per hour to link in with distance measurements being displayed in kilometres per hour.
 

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