/ Motoring

Would you go Euro and switch miles for km?

Driving in Europe

Whether you’re off on an epic cross country tour, or just doing a cheeky wine run, driving to France is not just a case of bundling yourself into a car and trying to remember to drive on the other side of the road.

Once you’re on French tarmac, it’s worth remembering you’re subject to the law of the new land you find yourself in. Now, you might not know this but that means carrying a warning triangle, reflective jacket and breathalyser.

You’ll also be expected to fit snowchains on snow covered roads. And, just because you’re from Britain, don’t expect to be excluded from these rules should a gendarme come a’tappin on your car window.

Rules of the road

After discussing a few of the rules in Which? HQ, we wondered if people would want to see any such measures be made mandatory (or just recommended) within the UK. Or would it simply be seen as more incessant red tape and ‘we’ll-use-our-own-common-sense-thank-you-very-much!’.

Then a brave soul (having read this letter in The Guardian) piped up: “What about switching to km? Wouldn’t it make things easier?”

Cue chin scratching.

Rules and speeds from Europe in the UK?

Me, I like the idea of reflective jackets inside the car where they can be reached by those who need them (ie, not in the boot). So if your vehicle conks out and you’re forced to pull onto the hard shoulder, you and your passengers would be that more visible getting out of the car and making your way to safety.

As for the switch to km, I can see some sense in it – but the cost of changing every road sign seems like a heck of a price to achieve such a vision.

Would you support a switch from miles to kilometres on British roads?
Loading ... Loading ...

And, while we’re at it, could new, high-quality motorways have no speed limit, either for the whole thing or just sections, just like the autobahn?

Below I’ve listed some rules from countries across Europe. You can see more rules listed on the websites of The AA and RAC.

Continental conventions

France 🇫🇷 : You must carry a breathalyser, a reflective jacket and warning triangle (warning triangle is compulsory in many European countries, but not all), and snow chains must be carried when driving through certain parts of France.

Belgium 🇧🇪 : You must switch the engine off if stationary, unless absolutely necessary. It is prohibited to use cruise control on the motorway in heavy traffic.*

Germany 🇩🇪 : If you have a GPS or sat nav system that can show the location of speed cameras then this function must be disabled or the system must not be carried (this is also fairly common throughout Europe).

Austria 🇦🇹 : You must have a first aid kit.

Spain 🇪🇸 : Those who wear glasses must carry a spare pair.

Netherlands 🇳🇱 : You must give way to buses leaving bus stops in urban areas and you must give way to trams unless traffic lights otherwise indicate.

*Belgium also has this riddle-like road law (which, according to the AA, is rarely enforced) – on one way streets in some cities vehicles must park from the 1st to the 15th of the month on the side of the road where buildings have odd numbers, and from the 16th until the end of the month on the side where buildings have even numbers.

I’d be interested which of these, if any, you’d like to see in the UK. Also, if there are other rules you want to see implemented, do say.

And would you want to switch to km? If not, why not?

Comments
Guest
Rhidian Davies says:
2 September 2017

“And, just because you’re from England don’t expect to be excluded”! so people from Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland are excluded?

Profile photo of Lauren Deitz
Guest

Hello Rhidian, thanks for pointing this out. I’ve adjusted the article to reflect this.

Profile photo of HowardWhich3
Guest

It’s clearly still the silly season. I find it depressing some Brits, the younger ones espcially, unknowingly hanker after the Napoleonic Code, as encouraged by Hitler. Happy to be guilty until you prove your innocence? Napoleonic Code. Happy to be prohibited from doing anything unless given permission by the State. Napoleonic Code. Happy for metrication? Napoleonic Code. The same code introduced metricated time – at least that idiotic notion died a death. But I suppose you would be happy to go along with it if told to.

As for driving on the right. You poor limited souls. Been to Australia? Been to Hong Kong? Been to Singapore? Oh, and been to Japan? Of course not. And then there’s most of Africa. I did an entire round-the-world business trip without touching one country driving on the wrong side. Driving on the left is not so exceptional as those whose horizons are limited to Europe accept.

[Sorry HowardWhich3, your comment has been edited to align with our community guidelines. Please ensure your comments couldn’t be considered offensive to others. Thanks, mods]

Guest
Terry Pilfold says:
2 September 2017

Now there’s a man after my own heart! I was an “African” having lived in Kenya and SA for many years, only returning to UK 3 year back. I travelled widely and never had to drive on the wrong side untill I had a holiday in Europe in the 80’s.
Ex British colonies nearly all still drive on the left I think, certainly India does. I just don’t know why the Europeans could never learn to hold their sword in their right hand!

Profile photo of tired
Guest

As far as I’m aware even the Romans drove on the left.

Guest
Patrick Taylor says:
2 September 2017

Which side to drive on was actually only really settled in the early 1900’s as prior to that it had not been a significant problem apart from in some towns – and they made their own decisions.

Wikipedia has some great detail:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Right-_and_left-hand_traffic

Profile photo of John Ward
Guest

Sinister.

Profile photo of Ian
Guest

Ostensibly, it’s believed the Romans drove chariots on the LH side to avoid whipping other drivers with the er…whips, they carried in their left hands. Clearly, they weren’t too worried about pedestrians.

Guest
Runner says:
3 September 2017

It is not correct that the Napoleonic Code prohibited everything unless permission was given by the State, and no European legal system has any such principle.

Profile photo of Yorky
Guest

I just wish that the BBC stop giving distances in kms when (hopefully) we still use miles.
And the weather forecasters would stop using mm for rain & snowfall, to confuse, even frighten, us old uns,

Guest

Ahh! The left leaning BBC,

Guest

Oh dear. I am British (Scottish Mum and English Dad). I am resident in England, UK where we have a RHD car although most of my blood relations are Scots and live in Scotland, UK. We live partly in Andalucia, Spain where I drive more and we have a LHD car.
The country labels are getting more confusing than remembering which way to drive around roundabouts.
At least in each country the speedometers are calibrated to the same system as the local speed limits.
Seriously though it would be much easier if the UK followed most of the world and went properly metric.

Profile photo of tired
Guest

Well I lived in Europe for 29 years and I’ve grown used to measuring small distances in mm and metres. I find inches a drag when doing DIY, but prefer to cook in lbs & ozs, but driving and long distances miles are far better I’ve always done a quick times 6 divided by 10 in my head then based on an average 60 mph I know how long it will take.

Profile photo of BrianPull
Guest

Why?

Guest

Most of the world drives the same way down the roads as the UK does. I have driven in and lived in several different countries and on;ly the Europhiles expect us to change to their ways

Guest
l black says:
3 September 2017

I am not sure that your assertion that most of the world drives on the right is important enough for us to change, with all of the problems that would produce. Imagine the accidents caused by European lorry drivers, (unused to our system) multiplied a thousand times.

Guest
Zz5g72 says:
7 September 2017

When all cars are fully autonomous it won’t matter what side we’re on.

Guest
bishbut says:
8 September 2017

IF or WHEN ??

Guest

WE visit Portugal regularly and find pedestrians on Zebra crossings just walk straight off the pavements without caring about the traffic approaching! Need to be ready for this in the towns and villages.

Guest

Ditto near the front where we are in Spain. If you stand near a crossing all the traffic stops. When driving you don’t expect people to look

Guest

The miles v. km (or imperial v. metric) debate has got nothing to do with the UK’s membership (or otherwise) of the EU. Even if the disastrous Brexit nonsense were to come about, despite all the dire warnings which are now becoming patently obvious, we should still get up to date, join the real world and fully use the same international system of weights and measures as the rest of the world (except for the benighted US, Burma and Liberia). Australia, Canada and Ireland have all fully converted to metric – why can’t the UK?

Guest
edwin graham says:
2 September 2017

Why should we change? Everything started in the UK! Let the others revert back to how they were at the beginning, ie. the same as UK.

Guest
Peter de la Nougerede says:
2 September 2017

I don’t know what “real world” Sam is living in. I don’t really care about miles versus kilometres, but in my opinion the only “disastrous Brexit nonsense” I ever hear comes from those who can’t accept that we voted to leave the EU, and that we are going to do just that, and that it will be great for us – notwithstanding whether we measure distance in miles or kilometres.

Profile photo of BrianPull
Guest

Brexit nonsense? Is that the debunked Project Fear that failed to prevent a sensible democratic decision from being taken? And in any event, what has it got to do with a miles v kilometer debate? The question is not ‘why can’t we?’ (we clearly could), but ‘why should we?’ (no reason to).

Guest
Derek says:
2 September 2017

Quoting in both miles and kilometres will in time help people to be comfortable in either Imperial! or metric measurements

Guest
Graco says:
4 September 2017

My thoughts entirely

Guest
Graham says:
2 September 2017

Regarding the use of GPS with speed camera warnings, I was not aware of this issue.
If this is true, why are TomTom and Garmin allowed to sell speed camera warning software?

I was aware that a few years ago these warnings were stopped in France, but that TomTom were allowed to have ‘Zones of Danger’ instead.

There are currently speed camera warning downloads for 31 European countries available from TomTom.

Guest
Donald Cameron says:
2 September 2017

It’s about time we dropped the anachronism of imperial measures and went fully metric- road distances, weights and measures. The system is so easy to understand! After all, if we really want to retain imperial measures ate we going to go back to gills, quarts,rods, bushels and pecks? What about reintroducing farthings? Lets at last join the modern world – it will be easier for everyone!

Guest
Hugh Colton says:
2 September 2017

Don’t confuse metric units with the side of the road on which to drive. When in New Zealand friends often ask what mpg I get from my car despite New Zealand having been metric when I first went there in the 1980s. They expect an answer based on the Imperial gallon, not the US gallon.
Ireland seemed to cope well with changing all there road signs to metric, and I remember visiting Canada in the 1970s and when I returned a few years later everything had changed to metric.
In the UK we coped alright in 1971 when we changed from pounds, shillings and pence, and there shouldn’t be any inflation associated with going metric on road signs.
The UK needs to continue with its excellent road safety record, the envy of every major nation.

Guest
Ronald M George says:
2 September 2017

Having lived and worked in both Germany and France, I have no problem with switch to Km, however, I doubt that the cost of switching every sign post and road atlas in the UK to Km would be worth the while. If all generations are incapable of a mental switch when driving on the “wrong side of the road”, then remember Norway, or was it Sweden? I am surprised if there is any significant problem; absolutely not with a little prior planning. However, as above, see no need for change due to likely costs involved within in the whole of the UK.
Re another ref to New Zealand, last time that I was there, we drove on the Left and miles were the measurement, however, 60 mbp was the limit and hire cars had a warning “noise” if one exceeded the speed limit !

Ron George

Guest

Sweden switched from driving on the left to the right in 1967. I’d hazard a guess that there was much, much less traffic about then and 90% of cars were already left hand drive and many drivers were used to driving on the right during visits to Sweden’s neighbours.

The biggest cost was converting or replacing all the buses.

Profile photo of JudithD1
Guest

No increase in speed limits please. RTAs are quite bad enough already

Guest

Whatever the limit, compliance and enforcement of the existing limits would help those of us who do comply.

Guest
Robert Harvey says:
3 September 2017

My gripe is with the motor manufacturers who do not include a switch to change the speed indication in the car between MPH and KPH.

Guest
fastlemon says:
7 September 2017

Most manufacturers are nowadays providing a facility to switch vehicle information displays from MPH (and mpg) to metric, i.e., KPH (and litres per 100kms). Most if not all UK built cars have had speedometers displaying both MPH and KPH for most of my driving lifetime, (some 57 years). Or am I wrong?

Guest

The DOE started at one time putting motorway exit signs at 2/3rds and 1/3rd of a mile instead of at 1 and at a 1/2 mile. I assumed that this was getting ready for metrication as they are approx. 1 and .5 km. Aren’t the distance markers at the side of motorways in km already?
Perhaps all new road signs should have both measures, miles with (km) in brackets. All new cars should have a digital speedo which can be switched between imperial and metric. Mine has, and it made it easy driving in Ireland. In time a switch to metric would be easier and less costly. As the younger generation are taught metric only, unless education changes, this is inevitable.
Driving on the right is another matter, and changing would be prohibitively expensive. When all cars are driverless, it will not matter, as long as they are programmed correctly!

Guest
Chris Paxton says:
3 September 2017

No, no, no, a thousand times no. Why? It suited the Romans and an awful lot of others, why go through all that disruption, especially when we leave the EU!

Guest
HelenA says:
3 September 2017

Don’t know what the problem is about converting to Km, living in Northern Ireland we cross the Border & automatically go into Km, no big deal, though there are sometimes mile signs as well.

Profile photo of John Ward
Guest

There isn’t really a problem with converting our modern distance signplates to km – adhesive vinyl labels can be applied quickly and economically. Most signs after junctions , except on Motorways and dual-carriageway A roads, show distances to only one or two local destinations up to about thirty miles away. Signplates at T-junctions and X-roads often only show the next two towns or large villages. Changing these would be a relatively easy operation I would say. It wouldn’t have to all be done overnight. Some of our road signs are in such poor condition it would be worth replacing many of them and ensuring they are in the best position and facing the traffic.

The tricky signs are the old finger posts at rural junctions which sometimes have cast iron numbers on them. Since the distances to the next villages are usually quite small it is hardly worth bothering to convert them. A short distance is a short distance in any metric.

Profile photo of wavechange
Guest

Signs are frequently corrected and updated in this way, and this has been going on for years. The amendments are remarkably durable and sometimes remain clear when the original sign has faded. I’m not sure what is used for the stick-on corrections but in my experience of updating signs on private land, vinyl does not last long.

Guest
lizf4619 says:
3 September 2017

I really don’t care. As long as the markers on the speedometer is calibrated correctly for the national speed limits. My current car a Corsa is calibrated in even kms.

Profile photo of Beryl
Guest

The forefront of the country’s financial focus should now be on improving our rail systems to help reduce the volume of traffic on our highways.

If our education systems are now teaching children metric then the future belongs to them, but for now our rail systems are badly in need of an update and as plans are now in the pipeline any changes from miles to km should be considered and introduced at planning level to include both road and rail systems. The big question being – can we afford it?

Profile photo of malcolm r
Guest

Agreed Beryl, we have more pressing priorities. I’d like to see much more freight going by rail, with better organised and more railheads for collection and final distribution.

Guest
Raymond says:
3 September 2017

Why on earth change our miles .We dont need to !! its the same with our Passports– i hope when we leave
this corrupt organisation we will have our Passports in our Countries name and not theirs !!!

Guest
Peter says:
3 September 2017

Maggie Thatcher put the brakes on changing to km when we were fairly new members of the Common Market. Now we are leaving the EU it makes no sense at all. Calling the change”progress” comes from the Marxist philosophy which became outdated when the Berlin Wall fell.

Guest
Bob Hamilton says:
3 September 2017

A gendarme is unlikely to come a tappin’ on your window unless you are attempting to mount an insurrection. The French use the police for road traffic regulation enforcement, much as is the case in the UK . Do you know anything about France?

Guest
Martin says:
3 September 2017

Why not use miles ? The USA cope with them, and miles certainly make us unique in Europe. We should be proud of them. Oh and whilst we are on this most important subject why are the National Trust trying to
introduce kilometers by the back door? If they persist I may have to burn my membership card!
Plus, I suspect that the cost of change would be immense.

Guest
Max Pallas says:
3 September 2017

The biggest problem is our hybrid system. When is a government going to have the balls to either go full metric or fully imperial.

Profile photo of WillitSingh
Guest

I agree with Max, lets go wholly imperial.

Guest
Robert Stones says:
4 September 2017

I am against switching because I do not like the word kilometre. The word miles ,I think, comes from the Roman soldiers 1000 paces, so why did a Mile become 1760 yards.? If we do metricate I shall call 1000 metres a mile.
In my local timber yard boards are Imperial width but Metric length.eg. 6″X2″X2000mm.
Bed sizes are Imperia in UK, with the same sizes in Europe but labelled in metric.

Profile photo of PatrickTaylor
Guest

By the way metrication in Europe during the 1800’s was almost a necessity because of the enormous variations in measured weights , volumes, and distance.

AFAIR the Swedish mile was around 11000 yards and most countries had their own measure. The fact that a major power, Belgium, was the first to go totally metric was in part to unite the disparate parts of a cobbled together country.

Guest
Ron Tyler says:
5 September 2017

For several decades we’ve become more & more ruled by Germany and France; I’m surprised we have not been told long ago to drop the mile as we have been made to drop feet and inches, and pounds and ounces. It seems utterly ridiculous to consider changing to km’s now we’re about to regain (I hope) our freedom from Europe and its fuhrer.

Profile photo of malcolm r
Guest

Ron, the UK started generally going metric in the 1960’s for sensible reasons of our own – trade, manufacturing among them. British Standards were issued to support and encourage that move. We did not join the Common Market until the next decade – 1973. So I don’t think we were “told to”.

I’m with you on kilometres – it seems a rather low-priority change to consider on the whole given the likely cost that would be involved.

Guest
Tony Hartley says:
5 September 2017

Change all the signs to km’s. You must be joking. Spend the money on getting our road surfaces up to the same standard as France, Belgium, Holland, Germany and Denmark where for about the twentieth time I have recently done 2,000 miles. Our roads are a disgrace, some are verging on dangerous and most trunk roads and motorways look positively third world after these countries.

Profile photo of Granny Buttons
Guest

The world is too dull and samey. Keep miles, not for practicality, but BECAUSE we are used to it and it is different. It’s not a problem. If you want to switch to km, I’m guessing you also want towns to be the same, with exactly the same shops, so you know what to expect when you drive somewhere new.

Profile photo of Ian
Guest

I suspect that boat has sailed…

Profile photo of wavechange
Guest

That reminds me that ships and smaller boats pass port to port, i.e. drive on the right.

Profile photo of Ian
Guest

That’s right – although unless in a specified ‘lane’ smaller boats normally come to an agreement by pointing their craft a certain way. In canals, however, it’s best to stay to the right.

Profile photo of malcolm r
Guest

Gliders also pass on the right. And other aircraft (but other rules apply to hot air balloons and the like).
“Basically, for aircraft of the same type (e.g. two airplanes) in the air the rules are:
Approaching head-on: Both aircraft alter their heading to the right.
Converging: Give way to the aircraft on your right.
Overtaking: Pass “well clear” to the right of the aircraft being overtaken.
(The aircraft being overtaken has the right of way. The overtaking plane manoeuvres to remain clear.)”
Just as well to know this.

Will this comment also get a thumbs down?

Profile photo of wavechange
Guest

Two of the thumbs-downs dealt with.

Guest
Malcolm says:
8 September 2017

British children have learned the metric system at school since at least 1974. Yet still the imperial measurements persist in everyday life.

Builders work in millimetres (not centimetres, oddly), but not when measuring the size of joists or doors (imperial).

The whole thing is frankly a confusing mess. We should have one system or the other, not this hybrid fudge.

So, is it to be 1,760 yards to the mile, or 1,000 metres to the kilometre? Or 16 oz to the lb, or 1,000 grammes to the kg? Or 160 fluid ounces to the gallon, or 1,000 millilitres to the litre?

Personally, I would welcome full metrication, signs in kmh and a switch to driving on the right. It’s correct that a number of countries still drive on the left, but only one of those is close to the UK (Ireland). Safety? Well, when Sweden switched from left to right in 1967, the accident rates went down. Car manufacturing costs would be lower, too.

Of course, Brexit is a separate issue, but since that’s never going to happen, we should get on board the metric train today!

Guest
C.Lane -berrylane says:
11 September 2017

Why is the term ‘Miles Per Gallon ‘still used,as we have been re-fuelling in litres at the filling stations for many years now?

Profile photo of DerekP
Guest

Strictly speaking “fuel consumption” should have units of “mass/distance” or perhaps we might just allow “volume/distance”.

But most modern cars have trip computers that will display our units of choice.

Another archaic unit we still use is “horsepower”. I believe the correct unit should now be kW.

Profile photo of wavechange
Guest

kW suits me. I kept forgetting the difference between horsepower and brake horsepower.

Guest
Derek Batten says:
13 September 2017

I once read that Napoleon was left handed and also mounted his horse from its right flank.
He therefore insisted that the rule of the road should be as it now exists in Europe although it was
not always so and is counter intuitive to the majority of right handed people.