How the Death-O-Meter Helped Brooklynites Promote Street Safety in the 1920s

Death-O-Meter being installed at Brooklyn Borough Hall in 1924. Photo via Brooklyn Daily Eagle


    In the 1920s, Brooklyn’s increasing number of automobiles turned the borough’s streets into a treacherous place for drivers and pedestrians alike. Safety advocates’ way to bring this to the public’s attention in 1924? The Death-O-Meter.

    The 20-foot-high sign was installed at Borough Hall by the Brooklyn Safety Council — an advocacy group composed of prominent citizens, according to the New York Times. The giant sign instructed drivers to “Slow up,” begging the question, “What’s your hurry?”

    But most important, it daily tallied the number of traffic fatalities by year and by the week — bringing home the dangers of reckless driving.

    Grand Army Plaza

    Photo from Daniel Bowman Simon via Streetsblog

    In 1927, the sign was moved to Grand Army Plaza, strategically placed at so that the “hundreds of thousands of automobilists on their way to Coney Island can not help but see it,” said the Brooklyn Daily Eagle.

    In 1926, there were 174 street fatalities in Brooklyn — a dramatic reduction from the 308 street deaths reported in 1923, the Eagle reported.

    By 1935, the original sign was moved again, this time to Park Circle at the south end of Prospect Park. Two more Death-O-Meters were also installed in Brooklyn on Kings Highway — one at Avenue M and the other at East 34th Street.

    Brooklyn Death-O-Meter

    Death-O-Meter in February of 1932. Photo via Brooklyn Daily Eagle

    Nearly a century after that first Death-O-Meter went up, city residents are still passionate about reducing traffic deaths and car-related injuries. In 2014, Mayor de Blasio adopted the multi-national Vision Zero Action Plan hoping to drastically reduce New York’s annual rate of car-related injury or death from nearly 4,000 to zero.

    Would it help to bring back the Death-O-Meter?

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