The reason is simple enough – the easier a sign is to read, the less a driver’s attention is taken from the road to read the sign. One of the interesting aspects of this idea is that it applies only to positive contrast signs – light letters on a dark background. In the examples shown here of negative contrast, the Clearview type is possibly less effective than the current standard. It has been recommended that signs with negative contrast remain under the old standard.
The Clearview decision was made in 2004, with an expectation that signs would change over to that font in the following 15 years.
I researched what I could on this topic, and there is a lot of science behind it all, including the studies on the negative contrast. In some areas of government, they might have concluded that until they can find a type style that is more effective in all situations, then they shouldn’t make the change. But in this case, the benefits of changing a majority of the signage outweigh the possibility of a one-type-works-for-all solution.
Will we ever know if this saves lives? Not likely. And since money is spent on new signage routinely (signs get damaged, stolen, or weathered) it does not have a significant financial impact. I’m glad there is some science behind the choice, that our highway engineers are looking for ways to make our roadways just a little bit safer. If you have any exposure to continuous improvement, you realize this is worth looking at.
Do you think signs matter to you? I’m not sure I read them much where I live, and when I am in unfamiliar areas, my GPS pretty much tells me what I need to know. What do you think – will emerging technologies make this a non-solution? Will sign readability not be a critical issue in the future?