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Study reveals fonts used by car manufacturers can influence distracted driving

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MIT car font study
MIT car font study

Researchers at MIT's Age Lab have discovered that the fonts car manufacturers choose for use with in-dash entertainment systems can impact the amount of time drivers spend distracted behind the wheel. Unlike the physical controls found in older cars (dials, knobs, etc.), a rise in digital user interfaces has had the unfortunate side effect of demanding more attention from drivers. The study involved a simulation in which participants were asked to perform routine tasks on a display not unlike those you'll find in many modern vehicles. Researchers tracked eye movements during each session and tested two typefaces on the screen: the first was Eurostyle, with Frutiger serving as the second and more "humanist" font.


Results showed male subjects had an easier time recognizing Frutiger and thus spent less time glancing at the display and more time focused on the road ahead. Average glance time with Frutiger was 10.6 percent lower for men, and while that may sound insignificant, researchers say it works out to about 50 feet when traveling at typical highway speeds. That can easily be the difference between avoiding an accident or being involved in one. Oddly, typeface didn't make a huge difference for female participants. Such a gender gap was unexpected and the team hopes further research will offer an explanation for the difference.