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Newsflash: The UK Uses Miles Per Hour


Here’s something you almost certainly didn’t know: the United States is not the only large automobile market that uses miles per hour on its roads. Even though everyone thinks Europe has completely converted to the metric system, the United Kingdom still uses miles per hour, too — and anywhere you go in the U.K., you’ll see signs in miles per hour.

I bring this up for two reasons. One is because I keep being told by people, even people I speak to in real life, that automakers have to convert gauge clusters and odometers to miles per hour “solely for the U.S. market.” That isn’t true — they’re converting these things for the U.K., too, and presumably a few other little countries that haven’t made the switch.

I also bring this up to enlighten people who are convinced that the United States is the only “backwards” country in the world still using miles per hour. This, too, isn’t true, as the U.K. is indeed still doing it — even though you might think they aren’t. Not only do they use miles per hour, but they also use miles per gallon (as opposed to “liters per 100 kilometers” like in other European countries) — and, as you might expect given that fact, they also measure gasoline in gallons (though they’re slightly different than our gallons). Remember how Top Gear always quotes cars’ 0-to-60 times, or their top speeds in miles per hour? That’s because the U.K. uses miles per hour.

Interestingly, the U.K. is a bit of a hodgepodge of metric and imperial units, and the history of this is sort of interesting — though Oversteer isn’t the place for such a history lesson. Many older Brits still use Fahrenheit for temperature measurement; younger ones use Celsius. Grocery store items can be labeled in pounds or grams. And peoples’ weight is often given in a truly unusual measurement called “stones,” where one stone is equivalent to 14 pounds.

But while it’s all a bit confusing and the U.K., in general, seems to be heading toward a wider adoption of the metric system, that doesn’t apply to the roads: it’s still solidly in the camp of miles per hour.

MORE FROM OVERSTEER:
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I Had to Teach a 16-Year-Old to Start a Car With a Key
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Doug Demuro
Doug Demuro
Doug DeMuro writes articles and makes videos, mainly about cars. Doug was born in Denver, Colorado, and received an economics degree from Emory University in Atlanta. After graduation, Doug spent three years working for Porsche Cars North America. Eventually, he quit his job to become a writer, largely because it meant that he no longer had to wear pants. Doug’s work has been featured in a... Read More about Doug Demuro

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16 COMMENTS
  1. Its true that Britain uses MPH, one of two measures of anything there that may still legally be in ‘imperial’ units. The other is a pint of beer in a pub. Not a pint in a supermarket, not a pint of milk. Beer. In a pub.

    It seems the two items most male and sensitive to the fragile male ego/virility had to stay the same lest governments fall. 
    The British male who claims:
    ‘I was late for a pub crawl with the lads, so I was ton ten (110mph) down the motorway, got there in time then sank 8 pints easy’
    will NOT say
    I was late for a mixed social occasion, so I drove sensibly down the autobhanroutestrada at the 120kph limit, got there only a few minutes late drank one half liter glass of radler and then moved on to an art gallery
    Just to confuse you, while fuel economy is measured and discussed in MPG (possibly during the 8 pint session above), fuel is sold in litres. So when it says 1.10 on the sign, that is sadly 1.10 GBP per *litre*, or abount 5GBP a gallon, or $6.50. Although a british gallon is bit bigger than a US one.
    Thats all clear now then isnt it.
    • 5 imperial gallons = 6 US gallons. I know because in Canada we use imperial and have to know how much oil to put in a 2 stroke outboard. The fuel tanks sometimes are in labelled in US gallons and you have to know how much a quart is also because they are different and even an ounce is different. If you don’t mix enough oil in the gas you can damage the engine.

  2. I’ve always known this, but that’s because I’ve been in England before. I love knowing that there’s another country where I can use the same units that I love. I’m pretty knowledgable when it comes to metric, but I still greatly prefer the imperial system for everything other than wrenching. When it comes to wrenching I prefer metric.

    • There is also US and Imperial measurements which are different. 5 imperial gallons = 6 US gallons. In Canada we use imperial and on the Trains we use miles. All railways are in miles and miles per hour, weight is in tons and pounds on trains also. On the road we use KM. Since the 1970’s we have had the metric system so either is good for most of us. I was surprised to see that UK still has miles on the signs.

  3. What confused me when I was driving in the UK was that the speed limits on highways is not posted. Not once did I see a speed limit sign on the highway. I just followed along with traffic, and kind of figured it was 70 mph. Googled it later and found out that it is indeed 70.

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