For over 40 years, driver safety classes across America included the now bizarre practice of screening graphic educational films designed to scare the bejesus out of young drivers. Melodramatic narration and grisly images of bloody, broken bodies being pulled from twisted wrecks were shocking staples of this strange film genre. Here, we highlight some of the more notorious classics millions of Baby Boomers would probably like to forget.
LAST DATE (1950)
In this fictionalized short, Dick York who later went on to play “Darren” in the television series Bewitched, stars as a drunken teenager bent on committing “teenicide” (described in the film as “the fine art of killing yourself , and maybe someone else, with an automobile before you reach the age of twenty”). Dick’s character is reckless, speed freak. He invites pretty girl Jeanne out for a joyride, which ends in a horrible crash that leaves Jeanne’s face so disfigured she can never go out on another date again.
Appointment With Disaster (1956)
Southwest Bell Telephone produced at least two driver safety films in the early half of the 20th Century. The first, You’re Driving 90 Horses, debuted around 1949 followed by Appointment with Disaster roughly seven years later. Both Bell films take a Dick-and-Jane-like approach to driver’s safety and feature the now classically hokey, lah-dee-dah style of narration reminiscent of FDR-era newsreels. Both films had a surprisingly long life in American schools. Or maybe not so surprising given the gory turn this genre took with Signal 30 (see below).
Signal 30 (1959)
From 1959 to 1979, Highway Safety Films of Mansfield, Ohio—the filmmaking arm of the Highway Safety Commission—produced a memorably gruesome and disturbingly long line of educational films aimed at young drivers. The no-budget, comically bad Signal 30 (police lingo for “traffic fatality” and shot in “living—and dying”—color) was the company’s first. Using actual, after-accident footage of mangled corpses, the film marked a new “bad cop” approach to driving safety. It won a National Safety Council Award and set the stages for a number of grizzly sequels, including Mechanized Death, Wheels of Tragedy, Highway Of Agony.
Highways of Agony (1969)
Stories of jocks leaving the room and young girls passing out at their desks are pretty common among Baby Boomers who hazard to recall the footage in this cinematic gem. Highway Safety Film’s magnum opus of highway horror, this ultra-gruesome documentary is especially sick and twisted thanks to its chillingly dour narration and a creepy musical score by Hungarian composer Zoltan Rozsnyai.
Red Asphalt (1964-2006)
From 1964 to 2006, the California Highway Patrol produced a five-volume series of graphic educational videos that are still shown today in some high schools and private driving schools. The Los Angeles Times described the series as the Reefer Madness of driver’s education videos—“a joyless ride of bad acting and gruesome images and statistics.”
Death On The Highway (1971)
Arguably the most shocking of the blood-and-guts safety film genre, Death On The Highway was produced by an organization called “The Suicide Club” and set a new low in shock value by touching up gory crash photos with red paint. Over the parade of ghastly images showing accident victims cut in half, charred by vehicle fires and missing their arm, legs and heads, the narration style that includes such classic lines as “consider that possibility that every other driver you meet on the road may be drunk, blind or just plain stupid” is equally in your face.