Certain typefaces appear to be less distracting to drivers than others, according to preliminary results from a new study by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s AgeLab, the New England University Transportation Center and Monotype Imaging Holdings,which provides typefaces and technology.
The findings may lead to safer, more accessible designs for in-car media
devices, addressing safety concerns that might otherwise hinder adoption.
The study is based on eye-tracking measurements from 82 subjects ages 36-75, who were asked to interact with menu-style displays while engaged in a driving simulation.
The preliminary results of the study suggest that some typefaces reduce glance time -- the time the driver takes his or her eyes of the road while driving when interacting with devices -- thus reducing the likelihood of accidents from distracted driving.
By the same token, they also suggest that some current
favorites are not good choices: one popular choice for in-car device interfaces, Eurostile, has a powerful, technological look, but according to Steve Matteson, creative type director at Monotype, its
letterforms are “mechanically rigid and compact, tightly spaced, and in some cases are nearly indistinguishable from each other.”
The results are not uniform between the genders, as men experienced a greater improvement in glance efficiency than women when a “humanist” typeface was substituted for a stylized, technical typeface. According to Monotype Product Marketing Director David Gould, the switch lowered the visual demand for men by around 10.6%, versus a 3.3% reduction for women. Gould noted that for men, this reduction in glance time equals about 50 feet of highway driving when drivers would otherwise be distracted.
The study comes as federal and state agencies emphasize the dangers of distracted driving, especially when it results from interaction with a growing number of electronic devices in cars. Carmakers have also been criticized for designing interfaces that are too cluttered or distracting. Last year, Ford issued a software update for its MyFord Touch and MyLincoln Touch onboard systems, including larger text and clearer buttons.