Daily Archives: May 6, 2012

How Metric System May Save Teen Lives

As a red-blooded American (Yah, Yah, I know all that stuff about everyone in the Western Hemisphere being an American even if they don’t identify themselves as such) I am genetically predisposed to abhor the metric system. It was made up by idiots for idiots so they didn’t have to think past the number of fingers and toes they possessed.

All measurements are arbitrary except for the nautical mile which is one minute of arc of longitude at the equator.  By international agreement it is exactly 1,852 metres (approximately 6,076 feet). But why should a metre be any more precise than the inch, foot or yard? Well, it isn’t. It’s as made up as the units we use in the States. The metric system was invented by the French, of course, and adopted in 1799. Over the years the definitions of the metre and kilogram have been tinkered with and changed and the metric system extended to incorporate many more units. After the French Revolution they decided to use the base-10 metric method for such things as the 10-day week, the 10-month year. Well, we know how well that turned out.

Here in Panama units of measurement are a bit schizophrenic. Because of the American influence from Panama’s independence they measure weights in pounds and ounces rather than kilograms. Gasoline is sold by the gallon while soft drinks, beer and rum are sold by the litre. When measuring things like “square footage” and distance, Panama uses the metric system.

Having lived in France I quickly learned that a kilometer is six tenths of a mile (0.6) and figuring out speed was fairly easy. If the speed limit is posted at 40 kph, multiply by .6 and you know you have to keep your speed at 24 mph. The other day, riding on the bus back from Bugaba, I noticed the speed limit sign which said “100 kph.” That’s simple… 60 mph.

Then I thought about young teen drivers, especially those in the States who have just gotten their licenses. One of the first things they want to do behind the wheel, at least among teenage boys, is to take that car up to 100 mph. It, too, is a genetic thing. After all, not only is it fast, but it’s a nice round number: One Hundred. Much cooler than 160.934 kph. Now, is there a single kid in a metric country that lusts to take their car or motorcycle up to 160.934 kph? I don’t think so. But American kids all want to hit that magic 100 mph.

Of course at 100 kph, or 60 mph, if you go flying off the road or hit a bridge abutment, even if you’re strapped in, there’s a pretty good chance you’re going to die. At a hundred miles an hour it’s pretty much guaranteed you’ll be “going into the light.”

Without that urge to go 100 mph I think the metric speed limit is a lot safer for young teenage drivers. Of course that’s all just theory since the average Panamanian driver is a reincarnated Kamakazi pilot to begin with.


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