Eyes on the Street, 83 Years Ago: The Brooklyn Death-O-Meter

death-o-meter

This is how our forebears raised awareness about the dangers of speeding and reckless driving, and it seemed appropriate to share while the Stop Speeding Summit is going on today. The Death-O-Meter, installed by the Brooklyn Safety Council at Grand Army Plaza in 1927, tracked serious injuries and fatalities in Brooklyn and put the information on display for everyone to see.

I think what’s jarring about this picture is the willingness to publicly tell drivers, without beating around the bush, that their actions behind the wheel have potentially fatal consequences. The Death-O-Meter assigned agency to motorists in a way that you rarely see in the modern press, police statements, or the courts.

I haven’t been able to pin down when the Death-O-Meter went away, or when the Brooklyn Safety Council disbanded, but I can point you to the definitive history of safety councils (which were formed in just about every U.S. city in the early part of the last century) and the social upheavals that accompanied the dawn of mass motoring in America. Go get a copy of Peter Norton’s Fighting Traffic. If you’re reading this post, I guarantee you will find it illuminating and deeply engrossing. And you’ll never look at this Dodge Challenger ad quite the same way again.

Hat tip to reader Daniel Bowman Simon for the Death-O-Meter pic.

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