Nov. 29, 2010— -- The federal government says THIS is harder to read than This.
Got that? ALL CAPS are bad. Mixed Case is Good.
It's just one reason the Federal Highway Administration is ordering all local governments -- from the tiniest towns to the largest cities -- to go out and buy new street signs that federal bureaucrats say are easier to read.
The rules are part of a tangle of regulations included in the Manual of Uniform Traffic Control Devices.
The 800-plus page book tells local governments they:
-- Should increase the size of the letters on street signs from the current 4 inches to 6 inches on all roads with speed limits over 25 miles per hour. The target date for this to be completed is January 2012.
-- Install signs with new reflective letters more visible at night by January 2018.
-- And whenever street name signs are changed for any reason, they can no longer be in ALL CAPS.
In Milwaukee this will cost the cash-strapped city nearly $2 million -- double the city's entire annual for traffic control.
In Dinwiddie County, Virginia -- with lots of roads but not many people -- the cost comes to about $10 for every man, woman and child.
"The money is better spent on education, or the sheriff's department or on public safety than something like that," said Harrison Moody, chairman of the Dinwiddie Board of Supervisors.
Many local residents in Dinwiddie say their current street signs work just fine, and they see no reason to change them.
"There are a lot of people out there that are hungry," said Dinwiddie resident Thomas Davis. "Why spend [money] on street signs when everybody can read a street sign or, if you don't know where you're going, get a GPS."
The Federal Highway Administration says it's concerned about safety. The new regulations, which were written under the Bush Administration, are designed to make sure that signs are easier to read for an aging population.
"If you can't read it, you can't see it or you can't comprehend it, it could be a distraction to you," said Federal Highway Administrator Victor Mendez. "You could be in an accident, negative consequences could occur."
Mendez says he understands, however, the financial burden these guidelines place on local governments. As a result, he told ABC News, the Federal Highway Administration will announce on Monday a new period of public comment on the new rules, a step that could lead to easing on the guidelines.
Whether or not requiring cities and towns to replace all their street signs improves safety, it would undoubtedly be a windfall for the multi-billion-dollar-a-year sign industry.
The American Traffic Safety Services Association -- which represents companies that make signs and the reflective material used on them -- lobbied hard for the new rules. And at least one key study used to justify the changes was funded by the 3M Corporation, one of the few companies that make the reflective material now required on street signs.