Auto Talk

Colorado Road Sign
Photo by Eric Kilby

Seeing the signs

Highway signage is an important part of the driving experience that gets very little attention from drivers until something goes wrong. Most motorists can recall at least one occasion when misreading a sign-or not noticing one-led to a missed appointment. Signs that can't be seen because of poor lighting, an obstruction, headlight glare or inclement weather can significantly add to driver frustration and, in some cases, poor driver judgment.

In addition, studies consistently show that certain tasks required for driving become more difficult as part of the aging process. Deteriorating vision and hearing are the most common problems. Given that by 2020 there will be more than 40 million licensed drivers ages 65 and older, states need to begin the process of updating signs and markings with modern, improved retro-reflective materials.

The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) is expected soon to release new guidelines for signage that will update states' minimum requirements for the design and installation of road signs. AAA, along with other safety groups, called on the FHWA to add these minimum standards to the agency's regulations. Maintaining a sufficient level of brightness contributes significantly to safer driving for all motorists.

In the meantime, what can the average driver do to improve visibility?

Proper windshield care can make a big difference to the way a driver sees the road. Have any small chips, pits or cracks repaired by a professional auto glass service. In addition to being collection points for vision-impeding ice and snow, these tiny defects can expand into large cracks when the defroster heats the interior of a cold windshield. Never pour hot water on a windshield to melt ice-the glass may shatter.

To avoid grinding debris into the glass, clean your wiper blades regularly using a little wiper fluid on a cloth. Change them when they start to leave streaks.

If your vehicle is parked outdoors, consider leaving wipers up off the windshield so they do not freeze to the window overnight. Chopping frozen wiper blades free with an ice scraper soon leads to a damaged blade and earlier replacement. Remember too that windshield wipers are not meant for the strain of heavy snow removal. Use a snow brush to remove large amounts of loose snow.

Naturally, keep the glass clean inside and out, including the outer corners that the wiper blades don't reach.

It's also a good idea to keep a pair of sunglasses in your car. The glare from snow or wet roads can be particularly harsh on a driver's eyes. And remember to be visible to others-clear snow from your headlights, tail lights and indicators too.