You may have never heard of Highway Gothic, but you've certainly seen it: it is the default typeface of every road and highway sign has been with us since the 1950s, stern yet unassuming, as American as a . Fifty long years of humbly navigating us to Walla Walla, or Belchertown, or from the 10 to the 710 to the 405 Freeway. Are the letters due for an update? Well-meaning highway engineers thought so, over ten years ago, when they introduced : a typeface that would be more visible in dark or inclement conditions, and from farther distances, all without requiring larger and more expensive signs.
"When light hit the words," , "they appeared to blend together in a glowing, blurry mess, something known as halation. This may be annoying to an average person, but if you're an elderly person driving at 70 miles an hour with bad vision, it can be deadly."
Subtleties surround us. We are beholden to patterns, familiar elements as comforting as the leg we first put through our pants. In 2013, states began adopting Clearview with regularity. According to tests, "Clearview was found to improve drivers' reading accuracy, reaction time, and recognition distance."
But earlier this year, the Federal Highway Administration nixed the idea of replacing America's signs with the new font. It would have been too complicated for states to replace their existing signs. And the new ones weren't necessarily more visible or legible than Highway Gothic: In some cases, visibility was worse. Perhaps the only reason they were in the first place, says , was for a simple reason: worn-out old signs were being replaced by new, shiny signs.
Either way, Clearview lives on in a completely different form: part of AT&T's corporate identity.
Highway Gothic may be here to stay, but good typography can save your life inside the car, Pacific Standard notes, with manufacturers studying the effectiveness of : organic, more rounded letters that promise to be more legible at a glance, cutting down on distracted driving. Once again, this font could save your life.
NASA might appreciate it, the article goes on to note. As would the crew of certain airlines going through preflight checks. Because it's always the little things that end up mattering the most.