By Steve D. Stones
I was perhaps the only teenager on the face of the planet who never had a desire to obtain a driver’s license or purchase a car. I spent my teen years riding my skateboard with my friends, so my skateboard was my main mode of transportation, as far as I was concerned.
When I did enter into driver’s ed classes, I was a nervous wreck. It didn’t help matters that I had heard rumors in school of violent traffic accident films that were to be shown in class. I don’t remember seeing any violent car crash films in driver’s ed class, but the anticipation of seeing them overwhelmed me.
Fast forward some twenty-two years later and I discover that Kino Video has released a two disc DVD entitled Hell’s Highway-The True Story of Highway Safety Films. Now I could finally find out what all the hype was about when I was in High School.
The first DVD in the set is an hour and a half documentary of how highway safety films began. The documentary interviews many of the people involved in making the films, such as John P. Butler, former chief of police in Mansfield, Ohio, Earle J. Deems, producer of the films and John R. Domer, photographer for the Highway Safety Foundation. The entire documentary shows graphically violent excerpts from many of the Highway Safety Foundation’s films, such as Signal 30, Highways of Agony, Mechanized Death and Wheels of Tragedy.
Clips shown from these films are like watching an illegal snuff film. They are not for the weak of heart. A dead elderly couple is pulled from a wrecked car, their bodies burned beyond recognition. Another clip shows a teenage girl leaning out a car door, her broken jaw and face covered in blood. A crushed baby is shown in another clip.
Unlike a snuff film, these clips of actual highway accidents are packed with voice over narration that is deadly serious, yet very dry and monotone. I’m not sure how effective these films would have been to teenagers viewing them in the 1950s and 60s, but I think it’s safe to say that teens of today feel they are much more invincible to death and are desensitized to violence. These films today serve as a source of kitsch and campy entertainment from a bygone era.
The second disc in the set is packed with short excerpts from other shocking classroom scare films, such as Carrier Or Killer, The Third Killer and Death On The Highway. Three complete driver’s ed shorts are also included on the DVD. Mike Vraney from Something Weird Video in
Seattle offers his views on these films in the main documentary. Vraney and his company sell many of these driver’s ed films. Remember to buckle up the next time you go for a drive. Believe me, you’ll want to after watching this documentary.