Distraction Alert: Your Car's Display Screen

Nov 30, 2012

By Staff Writer

distraction.jpgGPS navigation, hands-free phone calls, wireless interfaces, play lists—as the functions increase for today’s in-car systems, so do the chances for driver distraction.

With everything that could take a driver’s eyes off the road, one simple change might lessen the “glance time” and improve safety: a screen typeface that’s easier to read.

Typeface Impacts Legibility
A recent study by the MIT AgeLab, the New England University Transportation Center and Monotype Imaging monitored the responses of 82 adult participants who read the menus on a 7-inch touch screen while in a driving simulator. Their eye movements were tracked and timed by researchers.

The researchers found that a “grotesque” font—a squarish, compact sans serif type, or one that has a modern appearance with no flourishes—was more difficult for many of the participants to read than a “humanist” font—a sans serif type with ample spacing, open letters and clear legibility. Currently, many automotive systems use a Eurostile-type font, one of the “grotesque” fonts.

Legibility Impacts Distraction Time
Time Though the team noted that women participants had very little variation in their responses, men took 10.6 percent less time (about half a second) reading the humanist font compared with the grotesque font. In terms of distraction, the extra time spent reading a grotesque font adds up quickly. At a speed of 65 miles per hour, a car covers close to 100 feet every second, meaning the driver travels the equivalent of 50 extra feet with their eyes off the road. A study on “real-world” drivers by the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration found that approximately 80 percent of crashes and 65 percent of near-crashes happen within three seconds of a driver distraction.

The researchers have taken their findings to automakers in Detroit and hope to have typefaces added to the list of distraction guidelines proposed by the federal government.

Read more about the dangers of distracted driving and find out what you can do to stay safe on the road.

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