Drive on left


I’m usually more interested in the shapes and patterns of letter forms than the substance of the message, but this road sign, on the way to Tidal River in Wilsons Promontory, certainly caught my eye. It imparts more information than a mere driving directive: it implies that the road is frequented by motorists accustomed to driving on the right, which in turn means it’s a pretty popular tourist destination for international travellers, and that those drivers could well be new to driving on the left—hardly surprising when only about ten per cent of the world’s total road distance carries left-hand traffic. In Australia the decision to follow the British practice of driving on the left was made in the early nineteenth century by Governor Lachlan Macquarie. One thing Australian road signs have in common with right-hand drive countries is the typeface, which derives from the alphabet drawn for the US Federal Highway Administration in 1949—so while this sign looks like Interstate (it’s a dead ringer for Interstate Regular Condensed) it isn’t, because Interstate came later. Interstate, a family of 40 fonts designed by Tobias Frere-Jones in the early 1990s, was based on that original alphabet, but the digitised version has refinements that make it suitable for printed text.

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