Can Graphic Design Provide a Barrier to Distracted Driving?

Multitasking is the way of life in northern Virginia. Next time you are stopped in traffic, take a look around. I’m willing to bet that you’ll see several drivers who are texting, checking email, or talking on cell phones. We all know it’s dangerous, but we have long commutes and little free time. It’s hard not to multitask when traffic is moving at the speed of snails.

The traditional way of dealing with the problem of distracted driving is to tell people about the danger and ask them to cut down on distractions. This doesn’t work. Seventy-five percent of Americans say they know that distracted driving is dangerous, yet most adults admit to driving while distracted. We need a better solution.

Some experts recommend another approach. They say we should acknowledge that drivers will continue to text, check email, talk on the phone and program their GPS while driving. Instead of trying to stop the behavior, we could focus on reducing the harm. One way to do this is through safer in-car displays.

Most new cars have some type of dashboard computer screen. These screens provide navigation, communication and infotainment access. But all screens are not the same.

Scientists at the MIT AgeLab and Monotype began a study to determine whether more legible typefaces could reduce the amount of time that drivers take their eyes off the road. So far, the studies have found that an easy-to-read font makes a difference for male drivers. The difference between a more legible and a less legible typeface was equivalent to turning away from the road for a distance of 50 feet at highway speeds. Monotype is now working on a new typeface called Burlingame which is made specifically for in-car displays and other devices used in vehicles.

This may seem like a weird approach, but there is a precedent for this idea. In the early 2000s, the Federal Highway Administration worked with typeface designers to create the Clearview typeface that is now used on most highway signs. Studies show that nighttime drivers are able to recognize Clearview signs at a 20 percent greater distance than other signs.

Changing the font may not prevent every Virginia distracted driving crash, but it could help keep drivers eyes on the road for longer periods of time. When it comes to distracted driving, every second counts.

What do you think of this approach? Should we accept that distracted driving will happen or would you prefer to see a cell phone ban? Leave us a comment and let us know your thoughts.