Before we answer that question, let’s talk about the history of traffic sign fonts.
The main typeface seen on signs for many decades is called “Highway Gothic”. This font is defined by the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) Alphabets of standards for traffic control devicespublished in 1948.
There have been six variations of Highway Gothic.
In recent years, the standard typeface for high-speed highway traffic signs is Highway Gothic E-series or E(M)-series.
In 2004, Penn State conducted research in a new typeface style for road signs. The FHWA has approved the interim use of a new typeface called “Clearview”.
The typeface was a decade in development, according to Penn State.
“Inadequate signage can be a contributing factor to road accidents. Although Clearview was designed to help older drivers, our studies show that the significant response time gain provided by the new typeface will be achieved by drivers of all ages,” said Martin Pietrucha, Civil Engineer and director of the science, technology and society department of the university. Program announced in 2004.
Clearview is intended to make reflective signs more readable. It was found that when light reflected off signs with the old Highway Gothic font, certain letters – such as the lowercase A, E and S – could shine and become difficult to distinguish, especially for older drivers.
The new font solved that problem by creating more space inside the letters so the glare when headlights hit them wouldn’t cover them, Penn State noted.
Pennsylvania was the very first state to put up new signs with Clearview police. Later, other states will start using it in their panels.
But only 12 years later, in 2016, the FHWA discovered that the Clearview font had a detrimental effect on certain negative-contrast color orientations, such as speed limit signs, for example. These signs include black letters on a white background. The FHWA said at that time that all new highway signs would revert to Highway Gothic.
The FHWA has made it clear that public safety is not at risk as some signs are in Clearview, however, and the organization allows those signs to remain in place until they are worn out.
But then, in 2018, the FHWA reinstated approval of Clearview after saying she may not have all the information available when she announced her termination.
As of 2022, you will see signs in both Highway Gothic and Clearview.
The next time you’re on a freeway, especially in Pennsylvania, take a look at the freeway directional signs. You’ll probably see both fonts on your ride!
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