In the late 1940s and the ’50s, traffic fatalities were rising at an alarming rate. The combination of lax licensure laws, low safety standards in car manufacturing and the onset of teenage culture and access to cars were dismal in terms of traffic safety.
After attending a teenage safety conference in Baton Rouge, New Orleans Safety Commissioner Bernard McClosky formed the Teenage Traffic Safety Council in early 1953. He gathered 24 “serious minded” high school students to form a group to educate teens on traffic safety with an annual traffic safety week, as well as skill driving contests.
The following year a design contest among local high schools solicited a safety emblem that would embody the aims and purposes of the council. In following years, a silver key in the shape of a miniature stop sign was presented to those students who worked to further traffic safety education programs.
The council operated with the support of the Mayor’s Office, the city’s traffic safety education division, the New Orleans Police Department and the Metropolitan New Orleans Safety Council. Traffic Safety Week reached local students with speakers, assemblies, poster contests, safety films, literature and TV and radio spots. In 1958, a “Traffic Safety Motorcade” down Canal Street kicked off the week, which ended with a dance at Warren Easton High School.
Insights into why both students and adults were interested in participating in these events can be found in a Times-Picayune article from 1957. Fortier High School student Roy Fisher is quoted: “We want to show everyone that we are not only the cause of many accidents but we are very interested in stopping them.” NOPD Information Officer Capt. Theriot ended the article with a plea to students that chasing after police and emergency response vehicles actively involved in call responses was dangerous and needed to stop.