Typographers explore designs to make the smart car safer on the roads

As automobiles move away from nomadic navigation systems of dials, buttons and knobs to move towards dynamic digital display screens, driver distraction is a growing concern.

Studies indicate that if the glance time – time away from watching the road when driving while interacting with in-vehicle displays – exceeds by even a few seconds, it increases the risk of accidents.

As the automobile industry embraces design aspects to make the in-vehicle experience more safe and pleasant, a lot of study has gone into the use of how infotainment can be provided in a vehicle without causing driver distraction. Typographers have mulled over whether the size, illumination, contrast, polarity, and colour or the text size and slant can play a role in road accidents. Because the reading of displays by the driver in an automobile is limited to brief glances, reading in this environment is substantially different from continuous or immersive reading.

Some typographers suggest that ‘humanist’ (Frutiger®) sans-serif typefaces with strongly differentiated form groups may be more legible in the context of brief glances than the widely used geometric sans-serif (Century Gothic™), ‘grotesque’ sans-serifs (Helvetica®) and ‘square grotesque’ sans-serifs (Eurostile®) typefaces.

Initial results of an exploratory study by MIT AgeLab indicate that the right typefaces can make a difference in reducing the amount of time not focused on the road, hence improving driver and passenger safety.

Across two simulation experiments, data such as eye tracking measurements from 82 participants was collected. Drivers interacted with a multi-line menu display designed to model a text-rich automotive human machine interface (HMI). Participants (aged 36-75) were asked to respond to a series of address, restaurant identification and content search menus displayed using two different typeface designs.

Among the men it was found that a humanist style typeface resulted in a 12.2 per cent improvement on glance time as compared to a square grotesque typeface that is generally used by automobile companies. Adjusting screen brightness also impacted concentration.

Among women, glance time between the two typeface designs was virtually equivalent. Women in the second study showed a 3.3 per cent improvement on glance time with the humanist style over the square grotesque typeface.

Countries are addressing the need to reduce driver distraction risks differently. In the US, the guidelines recommend that devices allow for drivers to complete tasks in two seconds or less while not watching the road, since glances longer than two seconds are correlated with an increased crash/near-crash risk.

Reportedly India was the world leader in deaths due to road accidents. An analysis of reveals that the single most important cause in 78 per cent road accidents is the driver’s fault.