In the late 1950s and into the 1960s, the Ohio State Highway Patrol – and other similar organisations across the USA – decided that the best way to ensure that kids didn’t drive recklessly and cause road accidents was to scare them straight by showing the unvarnished, gore soaked results of car crashes and pile ups. Generations of American kids were subsequently traumatised by having to sit through these crudely made but viscerally horrific short films.
The first, and most famous of the films was Signal-30, made in 1959. This astonishing little film is a stunning exercise in shock therapy. A ‘signal 30’ is the police code for a fatal traffic accident, and this film is packed with them. Scene after scene shows the bloody aftermath of road accidents – crushed, burned, twisted corpses are dragged from smashed cars before the unflinching eye of the camera. The narration is excellent, helping to compound the horror of the accident with brutal condemnation of the driver involved for disobeying traffic law. Sure, it’s preachy, but it works only too well. You won’t feel inclined to disobey those traffic regulations so quickly after watching this, believe me.
1965’s Wheels of Tragedy is another great road safety film from the same people. This one tempers the shock impact with a story of sorts. A young rookie is shown the ropes by a veteran highway patrolman, and throughout the day they investigate a number of road accidents that haved ocurred. To add emotional impact, we are treated to reconstructions of the events that led up to the accident, using actors; the bloody aftermath, however, is all too real. While not containing as many death scenes as Signal-30, this film has rather more graphic close-ups of mangled, twisted corpses. Forget the ropy acting (other than accident victims, everybody plays themselves), and instead feast on this gruesome relic from the Sixties.
There are plenty more films of this sort out there, still being made into the 1980s, and most of them are well worth seeking out.