Signal 30

  • Mikita Brottman


an interesting symptom of our obsession with traumatic encounter and violent death is the current popularity on the home video mail-order market of the driver’s education “scare films” that were made in the late 1950s and early 1960s by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Originally given titles like Signal 30, Death on the Highway, and Highways of Blood, these films are now marketed in compilation or out-take form, and advertised as “Real-Life Traffic Splatter,” “Mechanized Death!” or “Highway Safety Films—Two Hours of Blood and Bone-Crunching Horror!” The most frequently compiled footage comes from Signal 30, a reference to the police call-out code for a serious road accident. In this movie, the camera follows various police officers to a series of car accident scenes. Each scenario is a grim narrative vignette, given form by editing, camerawork, and voiceover techniques. The emphasis of these moral tales is authenticity. Over and over again we are reminded that these are real accidents involving real people. “Most of the actors in these movies … received top billing only on a tombstone,” begins Signal 30. “They paid a terrific price to be in these movies—they paid with their lives.”


National Highway Traffic Safety Highway Safety Death Drive Real Accident Tangled Mass 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. 1.
    See J. G. Ballard, Crash (London: Cape, 1973);Google Scholar
  2. also Iain Sinclair, Crash (London: BFI, 1999), 80.Google Scholar
  3. 2.
    Sigmund Freud, Civilization and Culture (New York: Collier, 1963). “The living creature preserves its own life, so to say, by destroying an extraneous one,” continues Freud. “Some portion of the death instinct, however, remains operative within the living being, and we have sought to trace quite a number of normal and pathological phenomena to the internalization of the destructive instinct” (143).Google Scholar
  4. 3.
    For further discussion of this appeal, see Mark Seltzer, “Wound Culture: Trauma in the Pathological Public Sphere,” October, 80, spring 1997, 3–26, and Mikita Brottman, “Carnivalizing the Taboo: The Mondo Film and the Opened Body,” Cineaction, 38, fall 1994, 25–38.Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    Barbara Creed, “The Crash Debate: Anal Wounds, Metallic Kisses,” Screen, 39:2, summer 1998, 145.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. 7.
    See Jacques Lacan, Four Fundamental Concepts of Psychoanalysis, trans. Alan Sheridan (New York: W. W. Norton, 1978), 50.Google Scholar
  7. 11.
    Ralph Rugoff, “Dangerous Driving” (interview with J. G. Ballard), Freize, 34, May 1997, 50.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Mikita Brottman 2001

Authors and Affiliations

  • Mikita Brottman

There are no affiliations available

Personalised recommendations