# I Can’t Drive 88.51392 Kilometers Per Hour!

By on September 19, 2007

Have yourself a pint and celebrate, it’s almost time for National Metric Week! The Charlotte (FL) Sun Herald reports that Florida Gulf Coast University kicked off this year’s festivities a bit early by becoming the state’s first university to introduce metric speed limits along its campus roadways. Tony Planas, a FGCU math instructor and advocate of the much-maligned-in-America base-ten measuring system, paid for the recently installed signage. But Mr. Planas may have many miles to go before his metric dreams are realized.  Since Congress passed the Metric Conversion Act of 1975, the US has only inched forward with its metrication efforts. Despite the proliferation of two-liter soda bottles and 5.7-liter engines from sea to shining sea, the US remains the only nation in the industrialized world, aside from the UK, that still uses traditional English measurements for its speed limits.

## 50 Comments on “I Can’t Drive 88.51392 Kilometers Per Hour!...”

• cablemonkey

88.51392?

Try 31.00628

• FunkyD

Does the posted speed limit mean I can run circles around everyone else?

• FreeMan

That sign would make for an effective speed limit of zero.

I’d be laughing so hard, I’d run into something!

• benders

As an engineer, I hate the metric system. The units make absolutely no sense. I mean, atmospheric pressure is 14.7 psi and 101 kPa. What the hell is a kPa (yes, I know it’s a kilo Pascal which is 1000 Newtons per meter squared)? I have no physical sense of what a kPa is.

It’s going to be difficult to change speed limits to metric without switching odometers and the unit we sell gas by. Because what’s the point of traveling in kph and recording distance in miles? And if we record distance in km, it makes sense to start selling fuel by the liter.

Entrenchment is the reason we won’t switch over fully anytime soon.

• Virtual Insanity

And do you know why its called the Royal with Cheese?

The Metric system?

Thats right, the Metric system!

• cgraham

‘Entrenchment is the reason we won’t switch over fully anytime soon.’

Canada was pretty entrenched in it too…and then changed over everything. You can pick on Pascals as being a stupid measurement as much as i can pick on Fahrenheit for not making sense.

88.51392?

Try 31.00628

55 mph = 88.51392

benders: It’s going to be difficult to change speed limits to metric without switching odometers and the unit we sell gas by. Because what’s the point of traveling in kph and recording distance in miles? And if we record distance in km, it makes sense to start selling fuel by the liter.

There was a time in Ireland when the speed limits were English, while the distance signs were metric. To make things even easier, some of the older signposts displayed distances in Irish miles, which helped to make things marvelously confusing. (End result: I just kept driving until I got there, never quite knew how long it would take.)

By the way, National Metric Week kicks off on October 7. Strangely enough, it lasts for only seven days, or 168 hours. Now I’m really confused.

• Sajeev Mehta

US has only inched forward with its metrication efforts

Inched forward? Well done!

• Haven’t you guys heard of Sammy Hagar?

SI isn’t that hard. When I was a kid, adoption of the “metric” system seemed to be on the verge, so I learned it, but almost never use it.

Instead, I deal with Civil Engineers that work in decimal feet, Structural Engineers that work in decimal inches and Builders that call a 1 1/2″ x 9 1/4″ joist a two-by ten.

• beken

“55 mph = 88.51392 ”

That’s 88.5 Kph. In Canada, the signs would post as 90kph. It took Canada about 30years to get used to it. I’m still having trouble wrapping my thoughts around mileage. That’s l/100kms as opposed to miles per gallon.

I guess I can’t speak for all Canadians as the generation after me (my kids) have trouble figuring out that a meter is about 3 inches (or 2 cms) longer than a yard.

aurrgghh!

• Megan Benoit

the US has only inched forward with its metrication efforts

Shouldn’t that be 2.54 centimetered forward? Is centimetered a word?

You can pick on Pascals as being a stupid measurement as much as i can pick on Fahrenheit for not making sense.

Fahrenheit makes perfect sense, if you understand how it was calibrated (based on what were perceived to be the limits of human endurance — below 0F people don’t do so well, and they don’t do so well above 100F either). I think it’s silly to calibrate celcius based on the temperature water freezes and boils, when those numbers are not constant.

• Redbarchetta

Donal The confusion keeps us Architects in business, all the coordination we have to do. But I agree the headache of not having a standard system in this industry is retarded. It’s even worse if you try and use European products in a US building environment.

Megan Benoit: Shouldn’t that be 2.54 centimetered forward? Is centimetered a word?

Don’t overdo it. We give you 2.54 centimeters, and you take 1.6 kilometers…

• A mile is 5280 feet. That right there is the best argument I can think of for conversion to metric. Similarly, a foot is 12 inches, a yard is 3 feet, etc. It’s pretty much the dumbest thing in the world, and you can’t easily convert anything at all. I do rather like pounds, however, so they can stay.

• oboylepr

Fahrenheit makes perfect sense, if you understand how it was calibrated (based on what were perceived to be the limits of human endurance — below 0F people don’t do so well, and they don’t do so well above 100F either). I think it’s silly to calibrate celcius based on the temperature water freezes and boils, when those numbers are not constant.

How can something that is based on perceived limits make more sense than something that is based on a finite event that is demonstrable, repeatable and observable in everyday life? While I live in Canada and the archaic Fahrenheit scale got the official boot years ago many people still use it but the younger folks who learned the metric system cannot relate to Fahrenheit measurement and ask, “75 degrees F, what’s that in real degrees?” To me using the Fahrenheit scale makes no sense, you might just as well use the Kelvin scale or even make one up yourself.
…..Or maybe I missed the sarcasm. :-)

• bfg9k

# Megan Benoit :
I think it’s silly to calibrate celcius based on the temperature water freezes and boils, when those numbers are not constant.

That’s why the celcius degree was calibrated for pure water at 1 standard atmosphere. Vary the pressure and the freezing/boiling points will move as well.

And to be precise, the modern celcius scale is defined at absolute zero and at the triple point of water, which gives a freezing point of around -0.001 Celcius and a boiling point of ~99.9 celcius at 1atm.

• d996

If this is a discussion of measurements then can somebody explain bra sizes and how a D is bigger than an A. I thought an A in credit was good but a DD in bra sizes is better. Couldn’t they just rate them like compact,sporty or SUV. I know that females hate this banter so I will state that men who are hung like a bee drive performance autos in order to overcompensate for emotional and physical inadequacies which leads to an inferiority complex which causes confusion over bra measurements-oops.

• Cavendel

I’m a proud metric using Canadian. I started learning metric in Grade 7, so I am bi-unit enabled. Metric makes much more sense, especially for science. Much easier to count things when the system is based on my fingers.

I prefer temperature in F rather than C, and I still weight myself in pounds, but as far as pressure goes, I don’t have a mental image of either, so no loss for me there.

I love buying tires for my car. 17″ and 205 cm in the same product. How screwy is that? Don’t forget to use the 7/8th inch bolt when attaching the header on the 5.7 litre engine.

Don’t forget about the mishap with the Hubble telescope. One company was making parts in metric that didn’t quite match with the company that made parts in imperial. Imagine.

• reg

Ask NASA engineers assigned to the Mars Climate Orbiter if “metrification” is a good idea.

Cavendel: I am bi-unit enabled.

That sounds a bit personal. Be careful, there might be kids reading this!

• Jeffer

When Canada adopted the metric system, the Government of the day tried to eradicate Imperial measurement.I don’t know about the rest of Canada, but out West the old measurements slowly crept back in. Many highway signs display distance in both Km and miles. Most grocery stores sell produce in Kg or pounds. One place I would like to see dual measurements is fuel mileage of vehicles. Litres per 100km means nothing to me, I have to convert to miles per (Imperial) gallon, then Imperial gallons to U.S. gallons. (arggh!)

• Luther

The English weights and measures system was conceived for two reasons:

1. Vanity of a self-anointed “Royalty”.
2. To dick with the peasants.

• Stephan Wilkinson

Travolta said Royale with cheese.

• zenith

Don’t know about manifold or head bolts, but most common fasteners on American cars have been metric for some time now.

I like that the next wrench up from 13mm is 14 mm rather than the next one up from 1/2″ being 9/16. Seems more logical now that I’m getting too old and feeble to have to remember what 1/2 is in 16ths and 32nds.

• cgraham

zenith, that right there is the best argument to go to metric. I can not for the life of me (because i lived my entire life learning metric)remember the sequential sizes in inches.
1/2″ ~10mm after that I’ll take an 11mm

• sitting@home

Who cares what the measurement is posted in; miles per hour, meters per second or furlongs per fortnight, all you really need to know is if you’re going fast enough or too fast.

Before they can replace all the signs we’ll have GPS and transponder systems that can tell you the speed you should be going on a particular road. The speedo could have no numbers, just a continually updated range (with a minimum too) and speed limits could be adjusted for traffic flow and time of day.

The GPS will tell you your distance to wherever and e.t.a. in whatever units you prefer (don’t forget all those people in North Africa who still use the Julian calender and only just got around to celebrating the new millennium last week).

• Kevin

We could switch to all-metric. But why would we? Just because everyone else (except the Brits) has? If everyone else (except the Brits) was jumping off a bridge, would you?

If you have a burning need to convert hogsheads to centiliters, that’s what Google is for.

• AGR

Metric in Canada is a question of getting used to it, for the folks that learned both metric and imperial.

We have 1 liter, we used to have 1 quart which was 40oz and 160oz to the Canadian / Imperial gallon compared to 32oz to a US quart and 128 oz to the US gallon.

The best one is when people want to know how many miles to the gallon, when they are driving in kilometers, and gassing up in liters.

Vehicles turn 6 digits on the odometer sooner, 100,000 klms = 60,000 miles.

• I think I enjoy our Metric system in Canada, I grew up with the Imperial system but find the Metric works well too, who would have ever thought that we think that 97 cents a litre is a good buy for Gasoline, I still remember when I was in the Airforce in Quebec province it was 39 cents a Imperial gallon,.by the way Canadian dollar is within one cent of the US dollar today, soon they expect it will be par and maybe even higher!

• dean

benders: As an engineer, I hate the metric system.

I think you meant to say: “I’m an engineer, but I hate the metric system.”

Once you get over the idea that you can’t relate to the units in the same way (does understanding the idea of a psi really help when calculating hoop stress in a pressure vessel, and then comparing it to material specifications?) you’ll find that using metric is much simpler. I swear metric is the best thing that could happen to engineering if only we would use it.

Back in the mid-80s in high school, I had a girlfriend from Peru. She didn’t even know what a pound or inch was, let alone give her height and weight in imperial. At the time, Canada was nominally metric, but everyone still used inches and pounds. (Heck, we still do.)

• benders

Once you get over the idea that you can’t relate to the units in the same way (does understanding the idea of a psi really help when calculating hoop stress in a pressure vessel, and then comparing it to material specifications?) you’ll find that using metric is much simpler. I swear metric is the best thing that could happen to engineering if only we would use it.

Yes, psi does help. I can comprehend 5000 psi better than I can 34.5 MPa.

Fahrenheit makes perfect sense, if you understand how it was calibrated (based on what were perceived to be the limits of human endurance — below 0F people don’t do so well, and they don’t do so well above 100F either). I think it’s silly to calibrate Celsius based on the temperature water freezes and boils, when those numbers are not constant.

Fahrenheit is useful because it was created to be used by people, not elitist French scientists. Same with a lot of other English units.

• salokj

Hey, great subject: I was born and raised in NY, then moved to France at 25 and have lived here long enough to have had to learn metric stuff.
What to know a f–ked up measurement? French Fiscal Horsepower…ya know like the 2CV…it didn’t have 2 horsepower, like we think of horse power, it had 2 fiscal horsepower which is a completely arbitrary measurement that basically tells you how much you’ll have to pay the government. I was just looking at a few cars today: a 2.0 Turbo Diesel was 6CV and a 1.3 non-blown gas engine was…6CV.

Anyway, I really wanted to talk about the metric system and not chévaux fiscale.

I prefer km and km/h for travel. You figure you average about 100km/h or so on the highway over a long drive, that means that you go 100km per hour (!). Which means a trip that is 250 km will take you 2 hours. I know it’s probably as easy for some people in miles and mph, but I prefer it…plus it’s cool to drive at 130km/h…83mph just seems, I don’t know, slower. And I’ve actually broken 200…km/h.

F vs C…I don’t really know. Let’s be honest, what do we need to know? Chilly, cold, f–king cold, nice, warm, hot, really hot, too damn hot. I don’t really rely on numbers for this.

Getting back to the horsepower thing again…I really prefer HP to kW and Lb/ft to Nm (what the hell is a newton-meter anyway?)

Lastly, I don’t mind buying stuff in kg, but I still weigh myself in pounds.

• AGR

minus 40F = minus 40C

• yankinwaoz

As someone who is used to both systems, there are some warm and comfortable things about the imperial system that work well.

In particular, the mile a minute rule of thumb when driving on the highway. When driving in the US, I like knowing at a glance how long before I get to a location. When outside of the US, I have to rough convert to fractions of an hour (eg: 25km is 15 minutes).

Speaking of different ways of measuring things. One thing I still can not get my head to accept is the way they measure fuel economy in Australia. They don’t do “distance per volume” such as MPG or KPL. It is backwards. They state it as liters per 100km. The lower the number, the better.

What is strange is how in AU they often still measure people in feet and inches. Saying “I’m 6-3″ is perfectly understood. Pounds, Miles, Yards, and Inches don’t go over as well and will usually get you a blank look.

• picard234

The scale for Fahrenheit originated because 100F was roughly human body temperature and 0F was the coldest you could possibly get water and still have it in liquid form. (I guess by adding salt.)

Does anyone really know (without looking) how many cups are in a pint, pints in a quart and quarts in a gallon?

Kudos to this FGCU professor!

• SunnyvaleCA

That’s 111.622596 kilometers per hour, calculated thus: pi^3 = 31.006276680299819, but there are no units specified. That defaults (in the metric system) to SI units of meters per second, which equates to 111.6 kilometers per hour! For us ‘mericans that means 69 MPH. That seems pretty reasonable to me.

• whitenose

Ask NASA engineers assigned to the Mars Climate Orbiter if “metrification” is a good idea.

Their answer would be “yes, and those assh*les at Lockheed should’ve gotten the message.” NASA had already been working in metric for years.

• @AGR

minus 40F = minus 40C

Been there, it’s crackle as you pee cold. While in the military, doing patrols, we’d invent our own scale for telling how cold it was.

When a tree would crack suddenly, then it was below 40C. Loud CRAAACK!!! When an axe had trouble chipping ice, that was below 30. Lungs hurt when you breathe? Below 22. Skiis making a styrofoam sound when moving through snow? Below 15.

Anything from -15 to 0C was comfortable.

• Humourless

Funny enough, apparently the only nations that have not officially embraced the metric system for weights and measures are Burma, Liberia, and the USA. Exalted company, I daresay!

• Michal

You would drive 80km/h or 90, or whatever arbitrary number speed limit that would be chosen. Just like 55mph is a completely arbitray number. It’s not that difficult.

Metric is very simple. The main measure of weight or distance would be divisable by 10. A fluid ounce is 1/160 of an imperial gallon, yet 1/128 of a US gallon. What good reason is there for this?

Articles such as this mock the metric system (along with the subsequent glib commentary), but deep down you know the USA will not hold out forever.

• AGR

Cars make all sorts of crackling sounds at minus 40 its an experience.

At those temperatures 2 block heaters, oil pan heater, battery warmer and hope it starts.

Its easier to tolerate minus 40 in a dry cold climate, than minus 25 in an humid climate.

• fallout11

Yes, but good luck finding a metric bolt, nut, or pretty much anything else at your local hardware store, or lumber not measured in even imperial sizes (i.e. 4′x8′ plywood and 8′ studs). Or a metric-sized drill bit. Even your 13mm metric sockets end up on 3/8″ drive socket wrenches!
The infrastructure of this country was built premised on imperial units, and and will stay that way so long as it is maintainable.

• TreyV

Many english/US units are handy for fast physical reference. The foot, the inch, the mile, the pound, the gallon, and a few others fall into this category. Get away from units like that and the english system is gibberish. If I ever need to actually do calculations (i.e. get something done) I’ll take measurements in whatever is handiest and then convert everything to metric.

Michal: You would drive 80km/h or 90, or whatever arbitrary number speed limit that would be chosen.

The problem in the US is that if you base the limit on standard measurements, you end up with some rather odd metric limits, such as some of these:

http://lamar.colostate.edu/~hillger/signs/mitchell-sd.jpg

For these sorts of things, you need to stick with one system or the other. If you want to know how quickly you are traveling in kilometers per hour, the speedos in the US will often convert it for you (unlike most of the metric ones I’ve seen, where miles are nowhere to be found.)

Michal: Articles such as this mock the metric system (along with the subsequent glib commentary), but deep down you know the USA will not hold out forever.

All jokes aside (and we’ve had a few in this discussion), I don’t see any compelling reason why common daily domestic activities require a changeover. The measures that we use to buy milk or post road signs here should be those that are most convenient for the locals. It might make sense for NASA or export manufacturers to pay mind to it, but otherwise, we seem to have no problem buying pounds of meat and butter, while measuring our electrical usage in kilowatts and worrying about fat grams.

You could end up with the Canadian situation, where the state is officially metric, but ordinary folk often think in standard measurements in certain areas of life, such as height and weight. And then at the supermarket, due to the influence of the big neighbor to the south with whom there is much cross-border trade, you end up with a lot of odd-sized food packages, such as 454 gram boxes of cookies, because the packaging was largely designed for the benefit of Americans who buy it by the pound.

• Cavendel

I understand your thoughts, Adrian. People will use the measurement that they are comfortable using. But you can’t just say “let the scientists use metric”. Those scientists will have been brought up using imperial measures, and metric will not be a comfortable way to conduct their work.

I don’t think that the conversion should be forced on people (ie it is illegal to sell gas by the gallon, but must be sold by the litre), but you do need to have it taught in the schools so that the future scientists and engineers will be familiar with metric by the time they choose their careers.

Much of Canadian packaging has both metric and imperial (as well as english and french; big labels). I know that 1 cup = 8oz = 256 ml. I can bake chocolate chip cookies regardless of the recipe and if I drink a big gulp, that would be 1000 ml or 1 l which will send me into a dizzying sugar rush. By the way, my car only needs 6.3 big gulps of gas to travel 100 km.

• cjdumm

If you get pulled over for speeding, remind the cop that if you are traveling 2 pi miles per hour, or any even integer multiple of pi, you are also traveling zero miles per hour.*

*Using radial coordinates. The cop might not understand, though.

• chuckR

As an engineer, I am reconciled to the metric system. One of my customers still requires information in (his term) “Christian” units, not the units of those devilish Frenchies. I’m happy to oblige. Most of what he requires is psi. The handy conversion is 1 MegaPascal = 145 psi or close enough given all the other uncertainties in his particular product.

Other “useful” conversions: 2 cubits = 1 meter and 1 barn-parsec = 1 tsp.

Getting serious again for a moment, its heat transfer where British units truly stink and thats what eventually won me over to using SI.

• brettc

I personally like metric. Since I was born in Canada in 1977, I learned metric the entire time I was in school. I now live in the US, and wish they’d get with it over here and force a switch to metric, but I know that won’t happen. When I do construction around the house, I typically use centimetres on the tape measure. I don’t understand all the fractions in imperial, it’s way too confusing. Cutting a piece of wood to 97.2 cm is much easier to me than its imperial equivalent. Imperial just makes no sense since it was never taught in school to me. I can understand it, but I don’t like it. Which I guess is better than most Americans that don’t like and don’t understand metric. My wife has no clue what I’m talking about sometimes since she learned imperial. Yay Metric!

• benders

Getting serious again for a moment, its heat transfer where British units truly stink and thats what eventually won me over to using SI.

Give me a BTU over a J any day of the week.

• Dynamic88

“I understand your thoughts, Adrian. People will use the measurement that they are comfortable using. But you can’t just say “let the scientists use metric”. Those scientists will have been brought up using imperial measures, and metric will not be a comfortable way to conduct their work.”

It’s really frightening to think that our engineers might be having trouble with base 10. Is that why the D3 are in so much trouble :-)

The only other thing I’ll say about metric is this – A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.

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