A convoy of road safety recordings

If you’re travelling around the country this summer, we hope you do so safely! To quote They Drive with Their Boots Off (1955): ‘for the thousands of drivers who crowd the holiday highways of New Zealand, intelligent attentive driving will win them the most valuable prize of all – a safe journey and a longer life.’

Here’s a roundup of 1950s road safety recordings made by Wellington’s Pacific Films. Safe driving was of course a focus back then, though a surprising range of driving-related issues were discussed. These included sleepiness, drink-driving, and driving in a smooth and steady fashion. And while no one was called a ‘bloody idiot’, the outcomes of reckless driving were clearly shown – some theatrically dramatic, others light-hearted and silly.

We do have an online collection of road safety commercials from the 1990s if you wish to revisit some fairly confronting viewing (‘it’s the same day, David’).


Pacific Films had a special focus on safe motoring during the 1950s. Road design and road safety enforcement are at the heart of this Pacific Magazine newsreel from 1955. Safe cambers are trialled on the ‘Guinea Pig’ highway between Porirua and Wanganui, as are road markings … and courtesy cards for drivers to suggest road safety improvements. A new technology is the ‘microwave radar detector’ – an early ‘speed gun’ . In the clip, speeding drivers are pursued by the ‘flying squad’ of traffic patrol cars and dramatic music.

Road Safety: Highway Experiment from Pacific Magazine 20, F11157.

From 1955, The Lost Second is a clip from another Pacific Magazine that focuses on reaction times, judgement… and the effects of a few beers. Bert is driving around but feels tired (‘Monday morning, a hard weekend in the garden and all that’). He makes a few mistakes but heads home, while George continues drinking on an empty stomach. With reaction times impaired, ‘You could lose a whole second and not even notice.’ Clip starts at 06.22.

The Lost Second (starts at 6:22) from Pacific Magazine 14, F12118.

In Nine Lives (1955), actor Jimmy Morgan puts in a serious effort playing more than ten different roles! And each of them has an excuse for their speed when they’re pulled over by the traffic officer. ‘Give some people a powerful car and they speed just for the sake of speeding.’

Nine Lives from Pacific Magazine 17, F3683.

They Drive with Their Boots Off sends 42 models of car on a special drive from Wellington to Auckland, promoting road safety and testing fuel efficiency. The outcome? ‘Driving by the book you use less petrol and no one gets hurt.’

They Drive with Their Boots Off from Pacific Magazine 21, F3682.

Kiwi bloke Bert (Jimmy Morgan once again!) loves a good sleep-in and has to hurry to get to the office on time. Beating the Clock (1955) tracks his hair-raising journey across the capital and that of another Kiwi in a rush. ‘The automobile can be a killing weapon,’ this clip warns.

Beating the Clock from Pacific Magazine 13, F11129.

Perhaps a simple way for pedestrians to avoid accidents could be to wear the correct clothing. This advert for the Skellerup Road Safety School Coat shows the jacket’s reflective waistband and includes tips for wearers (‘Remember – Keep on the footpath’ ).

Skellerup Road Safety School Coat, C25569.

Finally, if you do want to check out some motoring carnage, this Roger Donaldson-directed commercial from 1985 has plenty of light-hearted action.

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