kph mph – English

Kilometres per hour (kph)

Automobile speedometer, measuring speed in miles per hour on the outer track, and kilometres per hour on the inner track. In Canada “km/h” is shown on the outer track and “MPH”, if at all, on the inner track.[1]

The kilometre per hour (American English: kilometer per hour) is a unit of speed, expressing the number of kilometres travelled in one hour. The unit symbol is km/h or km·h−1.

Worldwide, the km/h is the most commonly used speed unit on road signs and car speedometers. Along with the kilowatt hour, km/h is the most commonly used metric unit based on the hour, although the “hour“, while not an SI unit, is accepted for use with the International System of Units by the International Bureau of Weights and Measures (BIPM).[2]

In Australian and North American slang and military usage, km/h is commonly pronounced, and sometimes even written, as klicks or kays (K’s), although these may also be used to refer to kilometres.[3]


Although the metre was formally defined in 1799, the term “kilometres per hour” did not come into immediate use – the myriametre (10,000 metres) and myriametre per hour were preferred to kilometres and kilmetres per hour. In 1802 the term “myriametrés par heure” had appeared in French literature[4] and many French maps printed in the first half of the ninteenth century had scales in leagues and myriametres, but not in kilometres.[5] The Dutch on the other hand adopted the kilometre in 1817 but gave it the local name of the mijl.[6]

Notation history

Several representations of “kilometres per hour” have been used since the term was introduced and many are still in use today. For example, dictionaries list “km/h”, “kmph” and “km/hr” as English abbreviations and the SI representations are ‘km/h’, ‘km h-1‘ and ‘km·h-1‘ and are classified as symbols.

Abbreviation development

The use of abbreviations[Note 1] dates back to antiquity, but abbreviations for “kilometres per hour” did not appear in the English language until the late nineteenth century.

Although the unit of length kilometer first made its appearance in English in 1810[7], the compound unit of speed “kilometers per hour” was in use by 1866.[8] “Kilometers per hour” did not begin to be abbreviated in print until many years later, with several different abbreviations existing near-contemporaneously.

  • 1889: “k. p. h.”[9]
  • 1895: “km:h”[10]
  • 1898: “km/h”[11]
  • 1899: “km./hr.” [12]
  • 1911: “K.P.H.”[13]
  • 1914 “km. hr.”[14]
  • 1915: “km/hour”[15]
  • 1915: “km.-hr.”[15]
  • 1916: “km. per hour”[16]
  • 1933: “KPH”[17]

With no central authority to dictate the rules for abbreviations, various publishing houses have their own rules that dictate whether to use upper case letters, lower case letters, periods and so on, reflecting both changes in fashion and the image of the publishing house concerned,[18][19] for example style guides of news organisations such as Reuters[20] and The Guardian[19] tend to use “kph” (along with “C” or “F” instead of “°C” or “°F” for temperature).

Kilometers per hour as a symbol

The use of symbols to replace words dates back to at least the late Mediaval era when Johannes Widman, writing in German in 1486, used the symbols “+” and “-” to represent “addition” and “subtraction”.[21] In the early 1800s Berzelius introduced a symbolic notation for the chemical elements derived from the elements’ Latin names.[22] Typically, “Na” was used for the element sodium (Latin: natrium) and H2O for water.

In 1879, four years after the signing of the Treaty of the Metre, the CIPM proposed a range of symbols for the various metric units then under the auspices of the CGPM. Among these were the use of the symbol “km” for “kilometre”.[23]

In 1948, as part of its the preparatory work for the SI, the CGPM adopted symbols for many units of measure that did not have universally-agreed symbols, one of which was the symbol “h” for “hours”. At the same time the CGPM formalised the rules for combining units – quotients could be written in one of three formats resulting in “km/h”, “km h-1 and “km·h-1 being valid representations of “kilometres per hour”.[24] The SI standards, which were MKS-based rather than CGS-based were published in 1960 and have since then have been adopted by many authorities around the globe including academic publishers and legal authorities.

The SI explicitly states that unit symbols are not abbreviations and are to be written using a very specific set of rules.[24] M. Danloux-Dumesnils[25] provides the following justification for this distinction:

It has already been stated that, according to Maxwell, when we write down the result of a measurement, the numerical value multiplies the unit. Hence the name of the unit can be replaced by a kind of algebraic symbol, which is shorter and easier to use in formulae. This symbol is not merely an abbreviation but a symbol which, like chemical symbols, must be used in a precise and prescribed manner.

SI, and hence the use of “km/h” (or “km h-1 or “km·h-1) has now been adopted around the world in many areas related to health and safety[26] and in legal metrology.[27] It is also the preferred system of measure in academia and in education.[28]

Regulatory use

During the early years of the motor car, each country developed its own system of road signs. In 1968 the Vienna Convention on Road Signs and Signals was drawn up under the auspices of the United Nations Economic and Social Councilto harmonise road signs across the world. Many countries have since signed the convention and adopted its proposals. Speed limits signs that are either directly authorised by the convention or have been influenced by the convention are shown below:

In 1972 the EU published a directive[31] (overhauled in 1979[32] to take British and Irish interests into account) that required member states to abandon CGS-based units in favour of SI. The use of SI implicitly required that member states use “km/h” as the shorthand for “kilometres per hour” on official[Note 2] documents.

Another EU directive, published in 1975, regulates the layout of speedometers within the European Union, uses the text “km/h” in all languages.[33] Examples of text that does not include all three letters “k”, “m” and “h” in the native language of the state concerned, but where the EU directives applies include:

  • Dutch: “kilometer per uur” (“hour” is spelt “uur” – no “h”),
  • Portuguese: “quilómetro por hora” (“kilometre” is spelt “quilómetro” – no “k”)
  • Greek: “χιλιόμετρα ανά ώρα” (a different script).
  • Polish: “kilometr na godzinę” (the word for “hour” does not begin with “h”)

In 1988 the United States National Highway Traffic Safety Administration promulgated a rule stating that “MPH and/or km/h” were to be used in speedometer displays. On May 15, 2000 this was clarified to read “MPH, or MPH and km/h”.[34] However, the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard number 101 (“Controls and Displays”) allows “any combination of upper- and lowercase letters” to represent the units.[35]


  • 3.6 km/h ≡ 1 m/s, the SI unit of speed, metre per second
  • 1 km/h ≈ 0.277 78 m/s
  • 1 km/h ≈ 0.621 37 mph ≈ 0.911 34 feet per second
  • 1 knot ≡ 1.852 km/h (exactly)
  • 1 mile per hour ≡ 1.609344 km/h (~1.61 km/h)[36]
Conversions between common units of speed
m/s km/h mph knot ft/s
1 m/s = 1 3.6 2.236936 1.943844 3.280840
1 km/h = 0.277778 1 0.621371 0.539957 0.911344
1 mph = 0.44704 1.609344 1 0.868976 1.466667
1 knot = 0.514444 1.852 1.150779 1 1.687810
1 ft/s = 0.3048 1.09728 0.681818 0.592484 1

(Values in bold face are exact.)


  1. ^ The Oxford Concise Dictionary defines “abreviate” as “Make short (chiefly now of writing part of a word for whole …)
  2. ^ Until 2010, the directive covered “economic, public health, public safety or administrative purposes”; since then it covers all aspects of the EU internal market


  1. ^ Canadian DX model accessdate = 2011-08-04}}
  2. ^ BIPM brochure (SI reference)
  3. ^ “klick”. Oxford English Dictionary. June 2012. Retrieved 9 July 2012. 
  4. ^ Physique d’Emile: ou, Principes de la science de la nature. 1. Paris. 1802. 
  5. ^ For example“France Pittoresque: Haute Pyrénées”. Languillermie et Rambox. 1835. Retrieved 13 October 2012. 
  6. ^ Jacob de Gelder (1824) (in Dutch). Allereerste Gronden der Cijferkunst [Introduction to Numeracy]. ‘s Gravenhage and Amsterdam: de Gebroeders van Cleef. pp. 155–156. Retrieved March 2, 2011. 
  7. ^ “The Oxford English Dictionary”. Retrieved July 13, 2012. 
  8. ^ Frazer, John F. (November 1866). Journal of the Franklin Institute of the State of Pennsylvania for the Promotion of the Mechanic Arts. LII. Philedelphia: Franklin Institute. pp. 314. 
  9. ^ Harrington, Mark W., Rotch, A. Lawrence and Herdman, W. J. (May 1889). American meteorological journal: A monthly review of meteorology, medical climatology and geography. Meteorological Journal Company. pp. 226. 
  10. ^ Pell-r, G. (?) (February 1895). “Power consumed on electric railways”. The Street Railway Journal 11 (2): 116–117. 
  11. ^ Bulletin – United States Geological Survey, Volumes 151-152. USGS. 1898. pp. ix. 
  12. ^ Whipple, F. J. W. (1899). “The Stability of the Motion of a Bicycle”. The Quarterly Journal of Pure and Applied Mathematics 30: 342. 
  13. ^ Ball, Jack (August 1911). “Foreign Notes on Aviation”. Town & Country: 26. 
  14. ^ Dodd, S. T. (Jan 1914). “A Review of Some European Electric Locomotive Designs”. General Electric Review 17 (1): 1141. 
  15. ^ a b “Data on Mixed Motor Fuels of Interest for American Export Trade”. The Automobile 33 (15): 709. October 1915. 
  16. ^ “Tractive resistance tests with an electric motor truck”. Engineering and Contracting 46 (25): 560. December 1916. 
  17. ^ Aircraft Year Book. Aerospace Industries Association of America, Manufacturers Aircraft Association, Aeronautical Chamber of Commerce of America. 1933. pp. 391–393. 
  18. ^ Truss, Lynne (2003). Eats Shoots and Leaves. Profile Books. pp. 188–189. ISBN 1 86197 6127. 
  19. ^ a b Marsh, David (2007). Guardian Style. The Guardian. ISBN 978 0 85265 086 8. 
  20. ^ Reuters Handbook of Journalism. Reuters. April 2008. p. 278. 
  21. ^ O’Connor, John J.; Robertson, Edmund F., “Johannes Widman”, MacTutor History of Mathematics archive, University of St Andrews, .
  22. ^ The History of Chemical Symbols, Greenville, South Carolina: BJU Press,, retrieved 18 July 2012 
  23. ^ Quinn, Terry (2012). From Artefacts to Atoms: The BIPM and the Search for Ultimate Measurement Standards. Oxford: Oxford University Press. p. 132. ISBN 978-0-19-530786-3. 
  24. ^ a b International Bureau of Weights and Measures (2006), The International System of Units (SI) (8th ed.), p. 124, ISBN 92-822-2213-6, 
  25. ^ Danloux-Dumesnils (1969). The Metric System: A Critical Study of its Principles and Practice. The Athlone Press of the University of London. pp. 32. 
  26. ^ “RLO: SI Units”. School of Nursing and Academic Division of Midwifery; University of Nottingham. 1 December 2006. Retrieved 21 July 2012. 
  27. ^ “Information and Harmonization”. International Bureau of Weights and Measures and International Organization of Legal Metrology. Retrieved 20 July 2012. 
  28. ^ for example OLA Editorial Style Guide. Burnaby, British Columbia: Open Learning Agency (OLA), Government of British Columbia. 2000. Retrieved 26 July 2012. 
  29. ^ {{cite web
  30. ^ {{cite book
  31. ^ European Union directive: Directive 1971/71/354/EEC/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 18 October 1971 on the approximation of laws of Member States relating to units of measurement
  32. ^ The Council of the European Communities. “Council Directive 80/181/EEC of 20 December 1979 on the approximation of the laws of the Member States relating to Unit of measurement and on the repeal of Directive 71/354/EEC”. Retrieved 2009-02-07. 
  33. ^ European Union directive: Directive 1975/75/443/EEC/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 26 June 1975 on the approximation of the laws of the Member States relating to the reverse and speedometer equipment of motor vehicles
  34. ^ National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (May 2000). “Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards; FMVSS 101–Technical Correction–Speedometer Display”. Federal Register 64 (94): 30915–30918. 
  35. ^ National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard (101: Controls and Displays). pp. 237. 
  36. ^ 1 yard ≡ 0.9144 m and1 mile = 1760 yards thus1 mile = 1760 × 0.9144 ÷ 1000 km

Miles per hour (mph)

Automobile speedometer, measuring speed in miles per hour on the outer track, and kilometres per hour on the inner track.

Miles per hour is an imperial unit of speed expressing the number of statute miles covered in one hour. It is currently the standard unit used for speed limits, and to express speeds generally, on roads in the United Kingdom and the United States.[1][2] It is also often used to express the speed of delivery of a ball in various sporting events, such as cricket, tennis, and baseball. A common abbreviation is mph or MPH.

In the International System of Units (SI), the basic unit of speed or velocity is m/s. Road traffic speeds in most countries are quoted in km/h. Occasionally, however, both systems are used: for example, in Ireland, a judge considered a speeding case by examining speeds in both kilometres per hour and miles per hour. The judge was quoted as saying the speed seemed “very excessive” at 180 km/h but did not look “as bad” at 112 mph; a reduced fine was still imposed on the speeding driver.[3]

Nautical and aeronautical applications, however, favour the knot as a common unit of speed: one knot is one nautical mile per hour.


1 mph is equal to:

  • 0.44704 m/s, the SI derived unit
  • 1.609344 km/h
  • 1.4667 feet per second (= 22/15 feet per second)
  • approx. 0.868976 knots

When converting miles per hour to another unit of measurement, or vice versa, it helps to know exactly how miles and hours are related to other units of distance and time, respectively. For example, 1 mile is equal to 5,280 feet, 1,760 yards, or 1,609.344 metres. Likewise, 1 hour is equal to 60 minutes, or 3,600 seconds.

Conversions between common units of speed
m/s km/h mph knot ft/s
1 m/s = 1 3.6 2.236936 1.943844 3.280840
1 km/h = 0.277778 1 0.621371 0.539957 0.911344
1 mph = 0.44704 1.609344 1 0.868976 1.466667
1 knot = 0.514444 1.852 1.150779 1 1.687810
1 ft/s = 0.3048 1.09728 0.681818 0.592484 1

(Values in bold face are exact.)


  1. ^ Speed limit signs (UK) Department for Transport. Retrieved 14 September 2011
  2. ^ “Modern Living: Think Metric”. Time Magazine. June 09, 1975.,9171,913145,00.html. Retrieved 2010-06-15. “Meanwhile, the metricization of America is already taking place. Individual federal agencies, school systems, states and industries, as well as radio announcers, supermarkets, beverage bottlers and ballpark scoreboards, are hastening the everyday use of meters, liters and grams. …a road sign outside Fergus Falls reads, ST. CLOUD 100 MILES OR 161 KILOMETERS. Other signs note that 55 m.p.h. equals 88 kilometers per hour.” 
  3. ^ The Associated Press (November 1, 2007). “Another Metric System Fault”. The New York Times. Retrieved 1 November 2010. 

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