Font designed for easier readability on roadway signs is reinstated, two years after FHWA prohibited it

Updated Apr 14, 2018
Clearview Font is said by some to be more legible than traditional road signs.Clearview Font is said by some to be more legible than traditional road signs.

A font designed for easy reading on state highway traffic signs has been reinstated following the passage of the federal omnibus bill, according to the American Traffic Safety Services Association.

There’s been back and forth on whether this font should be used, and the federal government has changed its own course over the letter style more than once.

Now, for Fiscal Year 2018, the bill directs the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) to issue interim approval  for the Clearview font.

The sans-serif font is said to be easier to read at long distances and in darkness than the traditional Highway Gothic font, which was created more than 70 years ago.

The Clearview Font was developed in the early 1990s to improve the legibility of road signs without increasing font size.  It expands the negative space in letters to exaggerate their shape. That’s , thought to cut reading and comprehension time for drivers in motion.

The Federal Highway Administration gave approval for states to use Clearview Font in 2004.

In April 2014, FHWA indicated it expected to rescind its interim approval for states to use Clearview in the future.

Then, in 2016, the agency prohibited Clearview Font without public comment.  A technical brief released by the FHWA explains the termination of the font.


The tables have turned

On March 28, 2018, the FHWA issued a memorandum to officially comply with the order to temporarily reinstate the font, a decision that affects at least 28 states that had begun using it on their roadway signs.

The interim use has been authorized under the provisions of the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices for Streets and Highways (MUTCD).

Transportation agencies will now be able to submit written requests to the administration to use the font on highway traffic signs.

Though there have been questions about the font’s readability, especially for “negative contrast” signs with dark lettering on light backgrounds, the font has supporters, too.


Some studies support use of the Clearview font

The association notes that a Michigan Department of Transportation study found Clearview font reduced the number of freeway crashes by 26 percent.

And a recent study conducted by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Texas A&M University Transportation Institute found that Clearview font performed better than Highway Gothic across all tests, the association says.

The FHWA is responsible for conducting a comprehensive review of the research on Clearview font and reporting its findings to the House and Senate Committees on Appropriations within 90 days of enactment of the omnibus bill, the association explains.