All type is not the same

If from time to time the highway signs you encounter seem easier to read, your eyesight isn't getting better.

It's the signs.

Improved versions are showing up along some state and federal highways, and will be even more prevalent by 2015.

That's when federal guidelines for everything from surface street signs (Cascade Street) to interstate signs (Right Lane Yakima) will go to a new font and use both capital and lower case letters instead of all-caps, as in Seattle vs. SEATTLE.

All-caps has been the federal standard for many years, based on the erroneous theory that the upper case is easier to read.

Book publishers, newspaper editors and just about everyone except comic strip artists have known for about a century that all-caps isn't reader friendly.

There's a cost involved in the sign changes, of course. The federal government requires the work be done but provides no money for it.

"But we watch these things, and we factor them into our ongoing costs," said traffic engineer John Deskins of Kennewick.

Kennewick is among cities already employing the new signs as part of its routine maintenance and upgrade program.

Studies show the new typeface, Clearview, is much easier to read at a distance. Using caps and lower case makes it still easier to read, especially at highway speeds.

About half of the people tested were considered elderly.

Not just the typeface but also the reflective material standard is being upgraded to make it easier for drivers to see road signs at night.

Surprisingly, there is a drawback to the new street signs, according to Deskins, especially in windy places like the Tri-Cities.

Replacing the old all-capitals signs with caps and lower case actually makes the signs longer, because the new type face has more space between letters.

That means a greater "sail area." Wind has a better chance of swinging the new street signs about.

But any signs left standing really will be easier to read.

That's what research shows and what we believe.

Want to see for yourself? Go to clearviewhwy.com/ResearchAndDesign.

We think you'll agree.