10 Making Highways Safer

(Pictured: Highway Safety Signs) 

Based on Research by Philip Garvey, Ph.D. Psychology Science Minute written by Juanita N. Baker, Ph.D.

Psychology Science Minute brought to you by the School of Psychology at Florida Institute of Technology, I’m Dr. Sarah Arnett.

Have you ever been driving on an interstate to a large city where there are many signs with Exits A and B and you feel stressed concentrating on the driving while trying to read the signs and thus not missing your exit? Researchers studying the psychology of visual perception in the field of human factors and ergonomics have worked on improving the safety of signs to make our world safer for us.

Traditionally signs have been made with a bold font to try to catch our attention. Through research, Dr. Philip Garvey and his colleagues discovered that some fonts have problems with irradiation: when a letter’s line is so bright that it visually bleeds into the character’s open spaces, creating a blobbing effect that reduces legibility.

After research on visual perception of different fonts, human factors researchers created a new font that they named “Clearview.” The new font has bigger interior spaces for each letter, decreasing the blurring effect and making words easier to read. In fact, researchers found that Clearview signs gave drivers a 16% increase in recognition distance, allowing drivers more time to read signs and react appropriately. If the Department of Transportation adopts the Clearview font, highways can be safer and accident rates could decrease.

Just another example of how psychologists are paving the road toward a safer tomorrow.  Drive safely!

That’s your Florida Tech Psychology Science Minute. I’m Dr. Sarah Arnett.


Allen, M. J. (1970). Vision and highway safety. Philadelphia: Chilton.

Decade of Behavior. (2000). Behavior Matters: How Research Improves our Lives. www.decadeofbehavior.org downloaded 2008, Keren Yairi, Decade of Behavior, 750 First Street NE, Washington, DC  20002-4242, dob@apa.org

Garvey, Philip M., Pietrucha, M. T., & Meeker, D. (1997).  Effects of font and capitalization on legibility of guide signs.  Transportation Research Record No. 1605, 73-79.

Meeker, Donald T., Pietrucha, M. T., and Garvey, P. M. (2010). Proportion-Based Format System for Freeway and Expressway Guide Signs. Journal of Transportation Engineering, 136, 267.

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