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Film / Signal 30

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"This is not a Hollywood production, as can readily be seen. The quality is below their standards However, most of these scenes were taken under adverse conditions, nothing has been staged. These are actual scenes taken immediately after the accidents occurred. Also unlike Hollywood, our actors are paid nothing. Most of the actors in these movies are bad actors and received top billing only on a tombstone. They paid a terrific price to be in these movies, they paid with their lives."
— Prologue to Signal 30

Signal 30 is a 1959 Scare 'Em Straight driver's education movie depicting the tragic outcomes of actual car accidents. (The term "Signal 30" was used to signify to responding law enforcement officers that an accident with fatal injuries has taken place.)

Filmed in cooperation with the Ohio State Highway Patrol, the movie uses filmed footage of actual car accident victims to illustrate the point to teenage drivers that one instance of failing to obey a traffic law, a decision to drive too fast, an instant of carelessness or recklessness can be deadly - and not just in a clean, bloodless death sense. Produced and released in an era long before privacy laws (such as HIPAA) were created, several bodies are mangled and bloodied, the result of often (but not always) fatal injuries, while others are burned beyond recognition. A few scenes feature screaming and cries for help, just hours before they (reportedly) died.

In an era before distracted driving was a major issue — although the topic (in a 1950s sense) is hinted at a few times — speeding and failure to obey traffic laws are fingered as the major causes of many of the 12 accidents seen in Signal 30. Other issues are broached: drunk driving, habitual offenders, truck driving regulations (such as limits to hours behind the wheel during a given time period) and licensing of elderly drivers.

One reviewer on the Internet Movie Database declared the movie "the grand daddy (sic) of shock and gore drivers ed films. Nothing is hidden from view of the intended audience (drivers ed classes), blood, burnt victims, demolished cars (and) screams of pain. All these are MUST viewing for any driver young or old. The sad, unforgettable stories of the unfortunates who perished in front of the camera should be taken to the heart - if only those who died had watched a film like this, would they have taken the chances that lead to their early demise??"

One of the earliest "blood and gore" driver's education films, the movie was a staple of many driver's education classes during the 1960s through as late as the early 1980s. A long line of blood-filled driver's education films followed into the 1960s through early 1970s: Red Asphalt, Mechanized Death, Wheels of Tragedy, Highways of Agony, Options to Live and many others. All with the same lesson in mind: If you don't follow traffic and safety laws all of the time behind the wheel... well, take a look at what might happen.

These tropes might result in a "Signal 30" for you if you don't follow safety rules behind the wheel:

  • Bloodless Carnage: If you're looking for this trope, forget it. Only two of the 12 accidents don't feature any blood, just scared-stiff accident victims who got lucky after their careless driving resulted in a minor accident.
  • Could This Happen to You?: Yes, it could, if you don't follow traffic and safety laws 100 percent of the time.
  • Cruel and Unusual Death: Lots of them, and the deaths are all treated this way.
  • Drives Like Crazy: Sadly, not the stereotypical version. One of the accidents was caused by a female driver who was later revealed to be a habitual offender. Her decision to fail to obey a stop sign resulted in a two-car accident that killed four people. Even more tragically: The woman's mother was one of the victims, and her screams (of the still living woman) can be heard as she is placed on a stretcher and loaded into an ambulance.
  • Impaled with Extreme Prejudice: The tragic story of a young over-the-road truck driver, reportedly on one of his first jobs, hauling tons of steel. What happened to cause his fatal accident is unclear — Did he fall asleep behind the wheel? Was he driving too fast and missed a curve? Did the load just shift and/or was not properly secured and he was an unfortunate victim? — but in the end, the trope kicks into effect, as it is implied that he was impaled by several of the rolls of steel, in addition to his body being almost completely crushed between the back of his cab and the steering wheel. The narrator noted that it took several hours just to remove the steel before even beginning to try to remove his body.
  • Man on Fire: Two of the accidents — both involving trucks — show charred corpses being removed from burned shells of vehicles. One accident had two victims, both burned beyond recognition; that accident was caused when one of the drivers was speeding on a two-lane road and jackknifed when he attempted to brake suddenly to avoid crashing into the scene of a previous (minor) fender-bender, and he crashed head-on with another truck. The other accident happened at a railroad crossing, and involved an elderly driver simply driving into the path of an oncoming train.
  • Railroad Tracks of Doom: The story of an elderly driver — revealed to have failing eyesight and hearing — who drove straight into the path of an oncoming train, and was killed instantly when his truck caught fire. (The narrator noted that despite the crossing not being marked with signal lights, the area around the crossing was clear and the train horn was sounded multiple times before reaching the crossing.)
  • Safe Driving Aesop: The whole point.
  • Scare 'Em Straight: The whole purpose of Signal 30 - obey the laws all of the time, or this could happen to you. Going by several online reviews, this movie indeed caused many of the teenage viewers who watched this to tremble in fright and fear and indeed "scared 'em straight."
  • Tonight, Someone Dies: The prologue (seen above) spells it out very clearly - these stories aren't ones where the victims simply walk away thinking "but for the grace of God go I." (Actually, one of the stories does end with the victims surviving - in fact, escaping with minor injuries.)

Alternative Title(s): Signal Thirty