Like most of my classmates, I spent the summer of 1960 in great anticipation of sixth grade. Our fifth-grade teacher had promised that a “big surprise” awaited us. What could it be? The biggest thrill of all, we knew, wouldn’t take place until September 1961, when we’d go to a spanking-new junior high building where we’d be required to change rooms between classes and mingle with kids from across town for the first time. Whatever awaited us in sixth grade was going to have to be more earthshaking than that, even better than the launch of Sputnik in 1957.
What awaited us was ballpoint pens.
That we were excited to see ballpoint pens on our desks that September – after having had our cursive writing skills beaten into us by teachers wielding scratchy, sloppy steel-tipped pens and inkwells – illustrates not only how much American kids have changed in 55 years, but also that technology sometimes holds the promise of improving things. Sometimes. But not always. Take for example, the case of what is being hyped as a technological advance by typeface design firm Monotype.
In an effort to cut down on distracted driving, Monotype hit upon the idea of developing a font that would be easier to read on in-vehicle displays, such as navigational screens. Easier-to-read typeface has worked well on highway signs since Clearview standards began being adopted by many states early this millennium.
As a writer, proofreader, editor, layout person and someone who has worn trifocals for about 25 years, I readily appreciate a well-designed font. Publishers of books, magazines and newspapers pay design consultants big bucks to make sure their products can be read easily. Why not apply the same standards to digital onboard media, Monotype asks.
Because it’s stupid idea, that’s why.
Remember when the biggest driving hazard we faced during morning rush hour was avoiding a woman applying makeup or a man using his battery-powered razor to shave while looking in the rearview mirror? That changed forever when someone got the bright idea to talk on a cellphone while driving. It’s become even worse with drivers texting and attempting to read GPS directions.
Monotype claims that in tests with in-vehicle displays using its new, more legible, Burlingame typeface, drivers took their eyes off the road for shorter periods of time, amounting to about 50 feet traveled at highway speeds. Proponents of the font change say this is a “not insignificant” amount of time in accident avoidance, and they’re right. But how much more “not insignificant” would be keeping drivers’ eyes on the road all the time?
Ballpoint pens were – and remain – a great technological advance. Making in-vehicle displays easier to read, however, is one giant technological leap backward.
Here’s an alternative idea: Ban in-vehicle informational displays altogether. GPS navigational systems are wonderful and surely better than unfolding a road map to find out that you’ve been lost for an hour. But make navigational aids auditory only. You need not take your eyes off the road to hear Mr. T say, “Turn left at the next intersection, fool!”
Ban texting while driving by making it carry prohibitively high fines or a mandatory one-year loss of driving privileges. Ban cellphone usage by drivers, even when using a hands-free device.
These ideas ain’t Sputnik, but neither are we 11 years old.