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Proposed distracted driving fix could make the problem worse

There have been many proposed solutions to the problem of distracted driving, including new laws, safety campaigns and even cellphone-disabling technology. In spite of these tactics and resources, distracted driving seems to be getting more common rather than less.

Because of this, some have suggested taking a very different approach to distracted driving. This approach says that if we can’t stop or reduce this behavior in drivers, we can at least find ways to make it safer and less likely to cause auto accidents. To that end, some companies are designing new typefaces (fonts) that are easier to read at a glance.

When it comes to road signs and other things that drivers actually need to read, it makes sense to study which typefaces are easiest to read. But is the same true for text messages and in-car “infotainment” systems?

Proponents of the change argue that we cannot stop drivers from texting or engaging in other distractions. As such, we should focus instead on reducing the time and effort needed to read texts and other electronic type. Accident rates could be significantly influenced by differences as small as fractions of a second.

But the above argument assumes that drivers who have an easier time reading typeface would not text or otherwise drive distracted any more often than they do now. Yet it stands to reason that if drivers are already choosing to interact with cellphones and other devices behind the wheel, this dangerous behavior will actually increase if type becomes easier to read. Distracted driving may “feel” less dangerous, giving drivers a false sense of their own ability to multitask.

Distracted driving is one of the most pressing public health concerns in the United States. While reducing or eliminating this behavior will likely require a multi-faceted approach, it might be wise to avoid “solutions” that could make the problem even worse.

Source: The Washington Post, "A remarkably small idea that could reduce distracted driving," Emily Badger, April 7, 2014

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