December 1, 2005 A new font called Clearview appears on new road signs, making them easier to read even at night. Developed by a team that included civil engineers, graphic designers, psychologists, and vision experts, the new ergonomically sensible typeface combines upper- and lower-case print with added space inside the letters. The result is a clearer sign that drivers can better see.
STATE COLLEGE, Pa.--Road signs come in all shapes and sizes but just because they are big it doesn't mean they're easy to see. Now, a new look will help you see the signs more clearly.
It isn't Mary Sweitzer's 83 years that slow her down on the road; it's road signs. "While I'm driving and there are road signs that are difficult for me to see I tend to lean forward," she says.
Older drivers especially find road signs tough to read. But now, Sweitzer may get some roadside relief with these new signs. Martin Pietrucha, a civil engineer at Pennsylvania State University in Philadelphia, says, "You'll notice it's thinner in here than it was on the old one."
When headlights shine directly on traditional highway signs, the letters can turn into blurry blobs, making them hard to read. The new font, however, is a thinner, easier-to-read font -- even at night. Pietrucha says: "We put the font on a diet. It's not as chubby as it used to be."
Developed by a team -- including civil engineers, graphic designers, psychologists and vision experts -- the new typeface combines upper- and lower-case print with added space inside the letters. The result is a clearer sign that drivers can see better, day or night. "We found you could read these signs a lot farther away than you could read the other signs," Pietrucha says.
According to Pietrucha the new signs will start popping up over highways as old ones need replacing. "We have certainly improved what was out there for the last 50 years."
Sweitzer says anything they can do to make the signs much more visible is helpful and an improvement that may keep her safe on the roads. Pennsylvania and Texas have already committed to using the new fonts.
BACKGROUND: A new typeface for road signs, called Clearview, is much more legible than the existing typeface. The design is based on the results from six scientific studies and dozens of field reviews using drivers of all ages in both day and night driving conditions.
WHAT IT DOES: The Clearview typeface was developed by a team of perceptual psychologists, traffic engineers, type designers, graphic designers, vision experts, and optics engineers. It uses upper and lower case with initial capital letters, as well as spacing that takes into consideration how a driver will read the legend from an extended distance. It also eliminates nighttime overglow, also known as haloing. Overglow occurs when a car's headlights shine directly on a sign with letters formed from any highly reflective material. For a moment, the letters become so bright they simply resemble blobs. Clearview overcomes this by designing the letters to have more interior space, so that when haloing occurs, the overglow doesn't entirely fill them up.
ABOUT NIGHT VISION: There is very little visible light available to reflect off of objects at night, impeding human vision. A chemical called rhodopsin, found in the rod cells of the eye, is the key to good night vision. Whenever a rhodopsin molecule absorbs a photon, it splits into two secondary molecules -- retinal and opsin -- that later recombine back into rhodopsin. That's why most of us need a few minutes for our eyes to adjust to the dark when the lights go out. Exposure to bright light causes the rhodopsin to break down, impeding vision, until the two molecules combine back into rhodopsin. Unlike humans, cats have a special layer of cells lining the back of the feline retina, called the tapetum lucidum. It acts like a mirror, collecting and reflecting light back through the rods a second time to re-stimulate them. The result is a double exposure of light, permitting cats to see in near-darkness. When we see an eerie yellow glow in a cat's eyes in flash photographs, we are looking at light reflecting off the tapetum lucidum.
Editor's Note: This article is not intended to provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.