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Metric Motoring (1974)

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What you need to know education content clip 1

Original classification rating: not rated. This clip chosen to be PG

Clip description

This is one of the two television advertisements produced to facilitate the change to metric on Australian roads in July 1974.

Curator’s notes

The conversion to metric motoring commenced in all States and Territories on 1 July 1974. This 60-second television advertisement emphasised two things. The first was the importance of learning the metric equivalents to the existing miles per hour speed limits – especially as speedometers in older vehicles remained imperial. The second was the different appearance of the new signs.

The ad was broadcast in peak evening viewing times on the national television network (the ABC) and on all major capital city television networks for three days prior to the changeover day, and for two days after. From the Metric Conversion Board’s point of view, the advertising was primarily for public relations rather than education. It saw the latter being provided by the media, simply because of the issue’s inherent newsworthiness.

Teacher’s notes

provided by The Le@rning FederationEducation Services Australia

This clip shows a television advertisement to explain the numerical conversions required to understand the new road signs being introduced as part of Australia’s change from Imperial measures to the metric system. The advertisement uses simple black-and-white graphics and a voice-over. The final image reminds the viewer that they would need to learn the new system 'for safety’s sake’.

Educational value points

  • In July 1974, Australia changed all its units of measurement to the metric system as part of a staged process of metrification. Because of this all the road speed signs and the legal speed limits had to be changed from miles per hour to kilometres per hour. This television advertisement was part of a public education and road safety campaign to ensure that motorists understood that the higher numbers didn’t mean they could go faster.
  • As the clip shows, the metric equivalent of a speed limit of 35 miles per h prevailing in built-up areas prior to 1974 was determined to be 60 km per h. The actual equivalent is 56 km per h. This discrepancy was used as part of the argument put forward to lower the speed limit to 50 km per h on local streets, which was implemented in Victoria in 2001.
  • The clip shows an important marker in the development of Australia’s measurement system. The Commonwealth Constitution of 1901 gave the Federal Government the power to make laws in respect of weights and measures. In 1947 Australia signed the Metre Convention, making metric units legal for use in Australia. In 1970 the Metric Conversion Act was passed, allowing for the metric system to become the sole system of measurement.
  • Metrication was introduced in stages across the various spheres using measurement systems in Australia. Decimal currency was introduced in 1966 and in July 1974 the metric system of measurement was introduced on all Australian roads and throughout the transport system.
  • The process of metrication, which lasted from 1969 to 1977, proceeded smoothly with very little opposition and with an effective publicity campaign. The way was prepared for metrication by lecture tours, advertisements in all the media, posters and the free distribution of metric-sized items, including calendars and rulers.
  • By introducing the metric system Australia was initiating a change that has been widely embraced across the world. Currently only the USA, Liberia and Burma still use non-metric units, although metric is widely used in science and engineering. Some countries, such as France, converted to the metric system very early, its origins going back to 1585. Others, such as the United Kingdom, have been slower to 'go metric’ and are still in the process of change.
  • Commonwealth government advertising, of which this clip is an example, started in 1941 when the Commonwealth Advertising Division was set up within the Department of Information. Its primary function during the Second World War was to advertise recruitment drives for the military, munitions work, war loans and national savings campaigns.
  • The Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918 entitles governments to use taxpayer money to provide the public with information about government programs. The perception that information campaigns are an extension of political advertising has been influenced by pre-election spikes in expenditure. Governments claim that advertising is a key mechanism for conveying information of public concern without the editorial intervention of the media.
  • This advertisement is an example of public education about the changes involved in 'metric motoring’ to ensure that potentially damaging accidents did not occur in the changeover period.

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  • The National Film and Sound Archive’s permission must be sought to amend any information in the materials, unless otherwise stated in notices throughout the Site.

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