Safety Patrol—Kids, they have your back

PHOTO COURTESY OF IMLS Digital Collections & Content

Hollywood, MD - It wasn't long after the automobile gained its unstoppable worldwide popularity that society realized the faster, more powerful mode of travel could pose safety hazards. Indeed, children on foot were in danger when they wandered into any road where a motor vehicle might be traveling. In the September/October edition of AAA World, American Automobile Association (AAA)-Mid-Atlantic President and CEO Bernhard Koch pays tribute to a program the club started nearly a century ago.

“It’s amazing to think that AAA first established the School Safety Patrol program back in 1920,” Koch stated. “The first patrol consisted of two dozen boys in Chicago, trained in traffic safety rules to help keep classmates safe as they traveled to and from school. Today the program has grown to more than 654,000 patrollers in 34,500 schools nationwide.”

Koch pointed out that in addition to establishing a culture of safety around schools, the program has also “helped children develop self-confidence and has taught responsibility and leadership skills to five generations of young people, many who have gone on to become military and political leaders—including two former U.S. presidents—captains of industry, first responders, teachers and other model citizens.”

In a companion column, AAAWorld’s Rhonda Shah noted that then-Chicago Motor Club President Charles M. Hayes witnessed several children at a school crossing killed by a speeding car. The tragedy prompted Hayes to become committed to preventing such a horrific event from reoccurring. Hayes was a key player in starting the first AAA Safety Patrol, which is the USA’s longest-running safety program.
The association reported that since 1949, “428 patrollers have saved a life in the course of performing their duties.”  In 2017, AAA recognized six students—including two from Maryland—for their courageous actions as Safety Patrol members in saving lives and preventing serious injuries. One of the Maryland recipients of an AAA Lifesaving Medal Award—Ian Javelosa of St. Martin of Tours School in Gaithersburg—pulled a first-grader out of the path of a car. The other Old Line state honoree—Emerson Delfin of North Chevy Chase Elementary—used her voice to command a fifth-grader back on the curb when that student was about to cross the street while a motor vehicle was quickly approaching.

This past May the Washington, DC Metropolitan Police Department and AAA presented the annual Safety Patrol Parade on Pennsylvania Avenue. The parade began in 1932 and peaked in popularity during the early and mid-1960s, when patrols from all across America marched on Constitution Avenue. Those parades lasted six hours and attracted over 100,000 spectators. The Safety Patrol Parade was, in many ways, an overlooked casualty of the 1968 riots in DC that occurred in the aftermath of Dr. Martin Luther King’s assassination. With their own safety compromised, the patrollers declined to make the trip to the Nation’s Capital. Organizers are hoping to restore some of the event’s popularity in subsequent parades. There have been published reports in the Washington Post indicating that some of the Washington, DC Metropolitan area jurisdictions are reluctant to allow their patrollers to march.

Parade or no parade, AAA Safety Patrol marches onward. Perhaps there will be a grand centennial celebration in 2020.

Contact Marty Madden at

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