Thoughts on setting license plates in mixed/lowercase?

fellow9's picture

Given that research on road sign legibility supports the use of mixed case over uppercase, would it be worth examining the case of license number plates as well?
I'm really bad at remembering car plates, and I think it's partly attributable to the block shape issue. So I wondered whether they might be easier to read and remember if, at the least, the letters were set in lowercase (probably large x-height).

Does anyone have any thoughts on this? Is it worth investigating, or is it a non-issue?

By the way, I'm nowhere near as well-versed in type research, theory, and practice as many of you are, so please be gentle if I seem uninformed.

eliason's picture

An interesting idea...but is there room for descenders?

JamesM's picture

I think the authorities are mainly concerned about whether the police can read them.

sko's picture

Numberplates generally don't display words or names so perhaps mixed case wouldn't help as much as in signs. Also, would they replace any lining figures with old style figures if this was done?

riccard0's picture

As Craig notes, not enough whitespace.

Té Rowan's picture

And... it might confuse the radarcams.

russellm's picture

White space, Schmnite space. Some good typography could allow a reduced letter size and improved readability at the same time, although I don’t think readability is the whole problem. Alphanumerics and random strings of characters are hard to read and to remember. Making plates the size the back of a car wouldn't help me with something like “B396 BWT”. When I re-read this this post, my eyes come to a dead stop at that made-up license #.

Don't tell the cops this 'cause I don't actually like the idea, but in name of efficiency, they could reduce the text size of the plate number by about 25% (& why not use upper and lower case), then put a machine readable bar code on the plate.

gargoyle's picture

No room for descenders? So just set them in Hobo.

quadibloc's picture

The point should perhaps be made explicit that the random sequences of letters on a license plate don't have a "bouma" - an overall shape that distinguishes a word in lowercase due to its pattern of ascenders and descenders.

Thus, uppercase wins out as absent this factor, it's equivalent to lowercase with an x-height of 100%.

I don't expect license plates in American Uncial any time soon.

Té Rowan's picture

Try textur! That takes the tootsie.

.00's picture

...

quadibloc's picture

I certainly hope that this does not become the better, more legible, form for license plates of the future.

That would mean a continuity error in my favorite comic book of all time.

oldnick's picture

Alphanumerics and random strings of characters are hard to read and to remember

That’s rather odd: once upon a time, telephone numbers had mnemonics for their exchanges—32 became Davis, 36 became Emerson, 84 became Victor, and so forth. Davis 7-1751 was a lot easier to remember than its eventual successor, 214-327-1571.

In any event, using lowercase letters would probably clear up the most obvious source of equivocal reading, which is quickly distinguishing between D, O and zero; otherwise, all caps works fine, so if it ain’t broke…

HVB's picture

@Oldnick - Because of lax law enforcement, some license plate frames obscure parts of the letters, so there are other groups that may be difficult to distinguish: T, I, 1, and L; E and F.

oldnick's picture

My tax dollars at work…or, in this case, not…

Nick Shinn's picture

This sounds like a good use for the Panoptic alphabet of monowidth, unicase, lining characters.

I haven't rendered a Panoptica Sans Bold Condensed yet, but the alphabet concept is open source, although not my published iterations of it.

russellm's picture

seriously though, why do humans need to to read a license plates anymore?

Cars could have RFIC chips. QR or bar codes... I am sure that prisons can be geared up to produce these things instead of metal plates and inmates would gain much more useful skills for today's economy in the process. (Yeah, like how to make fake RFID chips... )

Do cops really need to prowl the streets squinting at my plate sticker to see if they need to pull me over for not renewing it? (!#&*^@ bastards!) An RFID could have told them months earlier.

HVB's picture

License plates still need to be read by people! I don't know how many children have been saved by the public's being aware of Amber alerts and id'ing vehicles.

For non-USA readers, when a child is missing or kidnapped an Amber alert is issued, posted on highway signs and broadcast over radio and tv. If they are believed to have been taken in a vehicle with a known license plate, that plate number is included. Amber was the name of a 9=year old girl who was abducted and murdered in1996

- Herb

russellm's picture

@ old nick That’s rather odd: once upon a time, telephone numbers had mnemonics for their exchanges—32 became. Davis, 36 became Emerson, 84 became Victor, and so forth. Davis 7-1751 was a lot easier to remember than its eventual successor, 214-327-1571.

Google is failing me, but there was an eastern European information designer who, came to the US circa WWII who, among many other things, can be credited with the modern North American phone # format 0f (XXX)-XXX-XXXX.

hrant's picture

an Amber alert is issued

... and traffic slows down because people are trying to read. Sometimes a person gets distracted enough to have an accident, killing a 9-year-old girl... Hey, so those freeway displays need much better typography!

hhp

Nick Shinn's picture

Ladislaw Sutnar, IIRC.

russellm's picture

@HVP, First of all, I just want to think out of the box a teeny bit. We like to think of this as the information age. Well, we now have better ways to store and convey little packets of information - such as car registration numbers, than on the stamped and enameled metal plates with bad typography we've been using for over a hundred years now.

I don't know how many children have been saved by the public's being aware of Amber alerts and id'ing vehicles.
I think the significance of that is somewhat exaggerated. I doubt that publishing plate #s leads to many criminals being identified unless we're talking about a kind of citizen "surveillance", where someone spots a car based on a description and confirms their suspicion by recording the plate number.

JamesM's picture

Electronic License Plates In Your Future?

http://tinyurl.com/cx9lcwo

"California bill, SB 1453, which passed without a dissenting vote on May 28, 2010, authorizes the DMV to partner with innovation companies for the purpose of researching, developing and implementing new DELP technology at no additional cost to the DMV or the State ...

"Senator Price argues that adoption of this emerging technology could potentially bring significant benefits to the State of California and its taxpayers by realizing significant cost savings by using digital electronic license plate technology to streamline distribution, activation, and registration of license plates. The technology could also be used to broadcast critical real-time traffic and public information such as Amber alerts and emergency traffic updates to drivers

"But it is its potential to generate revenue from advertising that could provide the real financial boon for the state. If approved the DMV would be able to charge private vehicle owners for the right to display commercial advertising or other images that would take personalized number plates into the 21st Century by displaying the insignia of a favorite sports team, for example..."

Té Rowan's picture

This bit of a blog post is a handle to another work that's been quoted re the US phone numbers. It has some other good stuff, too.

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