Metric and the Motorist

by Thomas A. Frank,
Rhode lsland State Chapter Coordinator

It would appear that the United States is finally going to go metric. President Bush, in keeping with his "international" view of the United States role in the world, has mandated that by the end of 1992, all U.S. government transactions be done in metric. Since the government is the largest buyer of everything, you can safely assume that the rest of us will follow, if somewhat reluctantly. What does this mean to the NMA? We see a number of areas where there is the potential for l?roblems or abuse, and where there is the possibility for benefit. Here are the opportunities and problems that we envision. How do you feel about metrification?

Speed limits

Our first issue, should we ask the Federal Highway Administration for a rule requiring that wherever the speed limit is posted in metric, that the European speed limit sign be used?

Reasonable English unit speed limits translate into rather large numbers in metric. We want to avoid "sticker shock" and the possibility of a rollback in speed limits. Most states had no problem posting 65 mph, but will they be able to bring themselves to post 110 kph speed limit signs? The insurance industry might see this as a possibility to promote lower limits (100 kph = 62.4 mph); after all, "who needs to go faster than 100?" Most importantly, speed limits of up to 130 kph are common in Europe, so seeing 130 kph signs is nothing new to trav- elers. We should soon see similar limits in the U.S.

We hope to see improvement in speed limit zoning with the new system. After all, the metric system is THE system of science and engineering. Metric limits would traffic engineering standards instead of the bizarre scheme now in place.

Gasoline sales

We must be attentive to what happens when the gas pumps go metric. Since your average person is not likely to be willing or able to convert the price in dollars per liter to dollars per gallon, there might be an inclination to exploit this lack of familiarity. For at least the first year, prices should be posted in both units. We might also suggest that when the EPA switches over to the new system for fuel economy (replacing miles per gallon), they should use kilometers per liter instead of the European method of liters per 100 kilometers travelled. Our method (mpg) makes much more sense and is more useful than the European method; we can stick with our system while still switching to metric units.


Gas guzzler taxes and registration fees based on vehicle weight are other areas for abuse. Our good government might be inclined to generate new tax tables based on the metric system that are vastly different (and more costly) than the existing tables.

These are the areas where we presently have concerns. What do you think? Have we missed anything that might be important to motorists rights? We are open to suggestions; let us hear from you.

Source: September/October 1992 NMA News

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