Driver Training Films
Even though Richard Wayman during the 1950s and 1960s was on par with Alfred Hitchcock for his ability to ignite gasps of abject horror, his name remains generally unknown. He didn't use star-celebrities like Jimmy Stewart or Anthony Perkins in his films. Instead, he used grisly photos and footage of crumpled cars wrapped around thick tree trunks and bloodied bodies slumped over accordioned dashboards to create driver training films that are still being watched more than 40 years later.
His films possessed all of the subtlety of a great white shark attack. Shock and fear were favored over the espousing of rules and regulations. Despite the gore, the films still exuded a hokey innocence of the times, creating the weird sense of Leave it to Beaver meets the Texas Chainsaw Massacre.
In all, Wayman's driver education films have been seen by more than 40 million students. And to this day, they still enjoy an unquenchable cult status as evidenced by how widely they are sold on Internet sites.
Driver education films began in 1954 when Richard Wayman came upon a one-sided accident in Mansfield, Ohio, involving a train and a motorcycle. Wayman, who was an avid photographer, voluntarily assisted the police by documenting the carnage with rapid-fire clicks of his camera. Impressed, the Mansfield Police Department expressed clubby gratitude, which, unintentionally, pollinated an idea in Wayman's brain.
Soon Wayman, with ghoulish-like zeal, began appearing at car accident scenes with his camera clicking. This "hobby" became so encompassing that in 1955, he recruited Phyllis Vaughn to assist in picture taking.
In 1956, their obsession with vehicular annihilation paid off when they received a lengthy plug from Ohio's leading newspaper, the Cleveland Plains Dealer.
In 1958, Wayman and Vaughn began presenting their photos to Ohio school groups as a slide presentation with the intent of educating teenagers on the dangers of driving. The success of this program was so immediate that with the a gust of public momentum behind their backs, they recruited John Dover, a news photographer from the Mansfield News Journal, and expanded into film. Less than one year later they released, Signal 30, and soon after formed the Highway Safety Foundation, which became the main distributor of driver educational films throughout the 1960s.
Signal 30 (released 1959)
On October 16, 1959, Signal 30 became the first documented driver education film ever to be released. Its name was derived from a police radio code for "an accident with injuries." Signal 30 mirrored the sensibilities of other educational films released during the Eisenhower era with hyped footage of in-your-face consequences for careless and deviant behavior. And even though it lasted only 13 minutes, it was an instant hit on the school circuit.
Mechanized Death (released 1961)
This jewel featured 28 minutes of carnage and gore. Despite the endless graphic footage of blood drenched faces lifelessly wedged through spidered windshields, the narrator's overly dire voice added a comical element, creating the expectation that at any moment he was also going to begin lecturing on the dangers of VD, marijuana and Russia's impending Communist invasion.
Wheels of Tragedy (released 1963)
Buoyed by the success of the first two films, Wayman took generous creative license by meshing staged reenactments with real accident footage.
In one reenacted scene, a cocksure driver named Frank ignores the desperate pleas of his girlfriend to slow down with the assurance, "Everybody goes over the speed limit sometimes." Predictably, seconds later both of are seen screaming as their car tragically plummets off of the edge of a hairpin turn. This is then followed by real aftermath footage of a car that tumbled down an embankment.
Wheels of Tragedy rates as the true pinnacle of driver training films. And though its intent is serious Wheels of Tragedy, in today's eyes, comes across as Saturday Night Live worthy.
Highway of Agony (released 1969)
This film is the last great driver education scare flick by Wayman. After Carrier or Killer (a driving film devoted to truckers) and The Third Killer (a far-reaching film that touched on heart disease, cancer and traffic accidents) received tepid response, Wayman returned to the roots of his hit-formula with graphic accident footage, staged driving scenarios, and plenty of awful mood-setting background music.
If you would like to learn more about Richard Wayman's legacy, look for Bret Wood's Hell's Highway: The True Story of Highway Safety Films. Released in 2003, this 91-minute documentary provides a detailed glimpse at the brain-machine behind Richard Wayman's early driver education films. Clips from Signal 30 and Highway to Agony are shown, as well as an endless splash of other gore shots. For anyone who ever watched a Richard Wayman film, this documentary serves as period-reviving nostalgia.