by Paul R. Spitzzeri
In our increasingly crowded urban areas, with many drivers seeking shortcuts and faster routes, the prevalence of accidents involving cars and pedestrians, including children walking or riding bicycles to and from school, is an alarming phenomenon. Just yesterday, an incident occurred in Santa Ana in which a middle school student was struck by a car, the driver of which then fled, though, fortunately, that person was arrested in the evening.
For the 1922-1923 school year, the Automobile Club of Southern California, a very powerful institution with regard to all things connected to car-centric greater Los Angeles, through its Public Safety Department, began issuing a monthly publication called the Safety Bulletin for Southern California Schools and its motto was “To Help Prevent Accidents Among Children.”
As the region underwent yet another of its fabled boom with massive population growth amid a surge in the use of automobiles, the October edition, the second of the series, four-page pamphlet sought to mitigate incidents involving school children and accidents and a cover photo showed a young man on a bicycle near two cars with a caption asking “Is the ride worth the risk?”
An answer was provided in an open letter by the department’s manager, Edward B. Lefferts, and addressed “To the School Children of Southern California.” Writing to “My Dear Children,” Lefferts began by expressing his desire that newspapers avoid headlines “telling of deaths and injuries to school children” in sensationalist language and he added that “in too many cases it is shown that the children have not even used a little bit of care for their own sake.”
In such instances, they ran into the street without looking both ways first, which was a pointed warning in the inaugural issue, but Lefferts acknowledged that children easily could forget such admonitions, even if “forgetting it only once may be the cause of a death or a serious accident.” He then asked his young readers, “isn’t it possible for every one of you to make yourself a special protector not only of yourself, but of your playmates?”
If any child was seen “taking chances,” while out on the streets, their friends and schoolmates were implored to remind them to look before venturing out and “to explain the need for this care.” If all children would adopt “this plan of helping one another,” there would come a time in which “the newspapers will have to look elsewhere than to school children for stories of accidents.” Lefferts reminded readers that “this is your magazine, and printed just to help you children to avoid getting hurt or killed.”
Moreover, they were encouraged to “send us any compositions or thoughts which will help to stop accidents.” Noting that there was not yet time to build “our new friendship,” including getting feedback from children about “how you like the idea that we are trying to guard you and protect you,” Lefferts continued, adopting a martial tone,
when you have all had a chance I know that you are going to step into line and join the ranks off the great army of “The Careful School Children of America” that is marching, flags flying, heads up, eyes ahead, hands waving, to make war on this enemy of all mankind, the “Demon Carelessness,” so that we can all be safer and happier in our homes where there is no one hurt or in pain.
Asking readers if they’d ever been home hurt on a Saturday and missed out on “Run Sheep, Run” with their friends, the public safety chief again begged children to be mindful of their movements out in public and concluded with a new “A.B.C.” mantra—”A-lways B-e C-areful!”
Meanwhile, there were a trio of key suggestions for the month of October in the way of accident prevention. The first was to stop and remove roller skates before crossing busy thoroughfares because it was harder to stop when wearing them when it came to stumbling and falling in front of a vehicle or running into one.
The second warning was that, whenever disembarking from a streetcar, which many school children used at the time, or from a car, be sure to look both ways before heading for the curb and to make a beeline for that location. If caught in traffic or uncertain or scared, children were told to “just STAND STILL” and “be like a post,” because “drivers . . . will know where you are and will drive around you.” If children panicked, however, a driver might swerve and crash into another person or vehicle, so they were asked to “keep cool, and don’t get scared,” while told “DON’T JUMP” and “don’t try to dodge.” Staying put, it was concluded, meant that “chances are ten to one that you won’t get hurt!”
Lastly, bicyclists were reminded that the rules for them were the same as for drivers of cars, but that “as a slow-moving machine, [a bicycle] must keep close to the curb.” Signaling to turn and having a white light in front and a red one in the rear, or at least a mirror with red glass, were cited as required. Beyond this, children were warned that it was illegal “to hold onto a truck or passenger car, and be towed while riding your bicycle,” with arrest a possibility.
Officers certainly did not want to resort to such an action, “but they some time may feel that for your own good they should,” so children were asked “don’t give them a chance” and to ‘do your part in stopping accidents by obeying the law.” This third suggestion ended with the statement, “remember that you are operating a vehicle, and must, and should obey the laws made to save you from harm, as well as to protect those others who are driving automobiles and trucks on the public highways.”
The back page contained “An October Greeting To The Children,” with the beginning being:
In these bright, sunny days of October, one of the happiest month of the year, you children should be able to enjoy every minute of the outdoors, with your games, your playmates, and all the joys that the season brings. This you can only do if you have health and strength, and are not made to stay indoors on account of some accident or other which has happened to you.
It was easy to stay healthy “if you will only be careful at home, and in the streets, in your coming and going to school,” as well as when playing. Carelessness could, again, result in being in bed or at home for weeks unable to enjoy being outside before and after school or during “the Saturday holidays”—Sunday was presumably not a play day.
Care was to be extended to such activities as avoiding fires, as well as not running across streets when cars were present and were not able to brake fast enough to avoid a collision and it was noted that “when you get the habit of being careful you will not forget it.” Upon awaking, readers were encouraged to tell themselves, “now, I must be careful today, and not have an accident” and this would train children “to think before you act,” so that, when danger was afoot, “it will make you stop and think” before acting rashly.
Observing that sidewalks were for those who walk, but streets were for those who ride motorcycles and drive cars, this essay asserted that this simple equation meant that “you have only one-third the safety in the streets that you have on the sidewalks.” Readers were implored to recall this when ready to cross a street, as it was averred that “on the sidewalks you will meet the men and women and boys and girls who cannot harm you.”
On the other hand, on the streets were autos, motorcycles, trucks and wagons “and each and all of these are a danger to you when crossing the streets unless you are very careful.” Such care would mean that “you may enjoy these splendid October days” and that children could warn their friends to take care, as well. To hammer the point home, the piece ended with,
Good health and freedom from pain and aches will keep you happy as nothing else will, and you will feel as bright as the sunshine, if you will only take care not to get hurt, or to become ill for some fault or carelessness of your own.
A further effort to reach those children reading the publication was through little rhymes of warning, such as “See a car and let it pass / Then you’ll reach your school-room class / See a car and try t beat it / And you’re almost sure to meet it” and a particularly morbid and blunt example, “Jack and Jill climbed up a hill / A car came towards them flying / Jack stopped still, but on went Jill / And now poor Jill is dying.”
The Homestead’s collection has a half-dozen more of these publications, so we’ll certainly look to share more of them in future posts. Be sure to look out for them! Meanwhile, check out how Lefferts was quoted in a very interesting article about the history of jaywalking.