Safety First on the buses

Don't run across the road to catch a bus
The Safety First Campaign had its own publicity emblem – a white triangle with red interior lines and the words ‘Safety First’.

The rise of motor traffic in the Edwardian era led to an unprecedented rise in accidents. Pedestrians accustomed to the slow meandering nature of horse vehicles were unprepared for the speed of new buses like the B-type. The increase in accidents sparked a number of public safety initiatives.

Starting in the 1910s, the Safety First campaign used posters to emphasise the correct behaviour passengers and pedestrians should employ when near buses. One poster strictly explained how to alight a B-type bus in a safe manner, whereas others exclaimed ‘look before you leap!’ This latter point seemed to be a common problem, as passengers were accustomed to leaping on and off transport because traditionally it had been so slow-moving. The advent of faster motor buses meant this became considerably more dangerous.

One 1915 poster underlines this problem with speed. It read ‘don’t dodge out in front of a slow moving vehicle unless you have made sure that a fast moving vehicle is not overtaking it’. Graphic drawings and photographic mock-ups of accidents were used as a shock tactic to encourage people to act safely.

Look before you leapThe staff magazine of the time, called Train Omnibus Tram (TOT), also expressed the importance of Safety First and of being cautious while using the transport network. Photos from training classes show instructional Safety First posters plastering classroom walls, and there were awards for drivers whose record was free from accidents.

Safety is still a high priority for Transport for London. It runs a programme, based at London Transport Museum, called Safety and Citizenship which aims to promote safe and responsible behaviour amongst young people on London’s transport system. The team visit schools across London, organising activities to improve understanding of safety on the network. Transport for London also runs a continuous safety marketing campaign. Although today’s messages may have slightly different priorities, the notion of responsible behaviour as originally described in the initial ‘Safety First’ campaign is still relevant today.

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