Smash Hits of the Year (1940)

We never know when our number is up, but Traveler's Insurance Company of Hartford, Connecticut knew the numbers were not in our favor in 1939. After combing through accident data for that year, the company decided to publish an informational pamphlet titled "Smash Hits of the Year" in 1940. (Chuckle, chuckle). This document used a combination of snazzy illustrations, statistical analysis of crash data and good old-fashioned scare tactics in an attempt to keep America's cars between the ditches. Here's a highlight of some of the poetry inside.

"Steel meets steel, and the grinding, tearing impact shears through layer after layer of metal, rubber and fabric before it reaches the soft flesh and brittle bones of those who occupied these cars. Shredded glass, grotesquely twisted chromium and tell-tale stains on the pavement leave a picture which not even the heavy and merciful blanket of darkness can hide. Multiply this picture by a million and you have an idea of America's tragic automobile accident record in 1939."

Well, that was uplifting.
C'mon, everybody, let's pile in the grotesquely twisted mass of chromium and go for a joy ride! The fact is driving a car has always been and always will be a dangerous activity. Some of the inventions to make it safer have come at great cost. Remember the hand crank? One reason the automotive starter was invented was because hand-cranking a car engine was killing people. Automobiles have often been dubbed a 'weapon' because of their lethal consequences in the event of an accident. Let's face facts...if you drink and drive or screw around behind the wheel, sooner or later you're going to kill someone or yourself. Not a good prospect either way. Then there are the times when you can't avoid an accident, like when a child's bicycle rolls into the street and you brake to avoid the worst case scenario but the person in the car behind you doesn't. Or the deer that prances into your lane of traffic while driving home after work on a dark autumn evening that does a little customization of your front clip. C'est la vie!

The entire Smash Hits pamphlet is worth checking out for its historical value. Reading it, we get a glimpse into the pre-war driving era when automobiles were still quite challenging to drive and men held most of the power. There were no automatic transmissions, they were just coming into the marketplace. Most cars had a push-button or pedal starter and required dexterity to shift and steer. If you had any disabilities, well you just might not be able to drive...sorry. Adaptive controls and things like power assist brakes and steering would come later. There were no cars with seat belts or airbags. Our roads didn't have reflective striping to see at night, and we certainly didn't have well-lit freeways everywhere. In 1940 we had just begun to tame the automotive beast and give it style and grace...not safety. That would come at the end of decades of death on the road and hours of research and development time.

Here are some of the pamphlet's highlights...

Pedestrians: Modern Traffic's Greatest Problem
Just like today,  in 1939 pedestrians and automobiles didn't mix well. Navigating the urban jungle was a dangerous mission, and many sadly fell victim to a deadly accident on the corner of Careless Avenue and Not Paying Attention Street. That was cheesy, but so is the title Traveler's gave this section. 

Are Women Worse Drivers Than Men? 
With data synthesized by the legendary pollster Dr. George Gallup himself,  this section is sure to cause an uproar in every couple's household. The funny part? Its not that women can't drive, its that perception is everything. Only 8% of drivers polled by Gallup in 1939 said they would feel more comfortable with a woman driver behind the wheel during a time when men were responsible for 93.4% of all automobile accidents. Take that, men!

Death After Dark
Travelers cites data showing an 18% increase in night time driving fatalities between 1930 and 1939. New sealed beam headlamps helped provide more light, and safer night time traveling during this era, advances that undoubtedly saved lives.

Its interesting to note that many of the same variables that caused accidents more than 70 years ago, are still problems for drivers today. Driver fatigue, drunk driving, and decreased visibility are mentioned as factors of nighttime accidents and fatalities. Combine a mobile device and increased speed and you have the ingredients for disasters such as these. Just looking at raw numbers, in 2013 with more than 250 million cars on  US roads, we've only increased traffic fatalities by 10.3% compared to 1939, the year this report was compiled. While any death behind the wheel is one too many, its relatively amazing that there aren't more accidents in our fast-paced world filled with distractions. Many credit that with technology such as anti-lock brakes, airbags, and crumple zones that have made autos safer over the years. Driver education in our nation's schools and life-long awareness campaigns also play a role in helping prepare motorists for upcoming disasters. We all will face a challenge while driving, its only a matter of when. 

My good friend Eric found this great piece of automotive literature and gave it to me many years ago. He and I share an appreciation for industrial films, whacky vintage advertisements and safety campaign materials such as this one. We're fairly unusual that way, but chances are you folks are too because you've been reading this blog post. I thought it would be nice to share this material here and I think you'll appreciate the artwork.  

Thanks for stopping by, and remember to slow down at sundown!



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