Fri, Jan 21, 2005 - Page 6 News List

Ireland switches over from miles to metric speed limits


Michael Kehoe, left, and Francis Crean, Wicklow County Council, erecting the new kilometer speed signs, at Ballinabarney Hill, Rathnew, County Wicklow, on Wednesday. The speed limit on 91 percent of Ireland's roads will switch to kilometers-per-hour.


Chugging tractors and herds of sheep will still occasionally block narrow country lanes, but another quirky challenge of navigating rural Ireland disappeared on Tuesday night as the country switched its speed limits from miles per hour to kilometers per hour.

For the last week, amused commuters along major roads watched as workers replaced 35,000 old signs and hammered in 23,000 new ones. The change ended a decades-old discrepancy between speed limits, which have been posted in miles per hour, and distances, which are usually -- but far from always -- posted in kilometers.

EU rules require that all distance signs be converted to kilometers by the end of the year, and Ireland is finally putting into place many of the standards it pledged to adopt when it joined the bloc in 1973.

As part of Ireland's embracing of the metric system, the Parliament ordered the change for speed limits. The government spent US$15 million on the changeover, of which US$3.3 million went to broadcast advertising, ubiquitous billboards and fliers delivered to every household in the country, so few people expect much difficulty adjusting.

Ireland is familiar with broad changes in national systems. Its original currency, the punt, was converted from Britain's base-12 shilling system to decimals in 1971, and politicians were surprised at how seamlessly the country switched to the euro three years ago.

The EU requires weights and volumes of saleable goods to be displayed in metric units, although one exception in the British Isles -- a pint of beer -- is unlikely to be sold in 568-milliliter glasses anytime soon.

For drivers in Ireland, "the appearance of more signs on our roads has increased their awareness of speed limits generally," Transportation Minister Martin Cullen said. "If motorists are more aware of their driving environment, our roads will be safer places."

Cullen also lowered the speed limit on local roads, which make up 90 percent of the road network, from 60 to 48 miles per hour, or 100km to 80km, while the top limit on highways rose to 120km, or about 75 miles, per hour.

"I knew it was going to happen eventually," said Tom Carroll, a 69-year-old taxi driver, who suggested that the government harmonize with the European standard on a slightly bigger issue.

"I'd prefer if we switched to driving on the right-hand side of the road," he said.

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