"Speed Kills", but what did it kill first?
September 17, 2019 5:53 PM   Subscribe

I've seen and heard the phrase "Speed kills" in a few different contexts, and I'd like to know where it originated. Where did it come from?

Contexts in which I've seen or heard this exact phrase:
1. Automotive/highway safety
2. A reference to amphetamines, timeline probably from about the 60's through the 80's
3. In football, when a fast player is running away from the defense on the way to scoring a touchdown
4. A terrible John Travolta movie from last year that is making this more difficult to Google

The different uses all seem to be playing off a pre-existing saying. Which came first?
posted by Huffy Puffy to Writing & Language (9 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
In Quebec I remember seeing road signs in the early 2000s with cartoon images of a dead child (!) that said “la vitesse tue” (French for “speed kills”). I can’t google up a pic but there is a different sign with the same slogan at the end of this blog post (in this case, grafitti’d to say “speed killed JF”)
posted by nouvelle-personne at 5:59 PM on September 17, 2019

This source traces it back to 1968, "[when] the Do It Now Foundation launched the famous "Speed Kills" campaign designed to educate young people about the dangers of methamphetamine." Here's Frank Zappa doing a PSA for DINF. Ray Manzarek :"Speed Kills" PSA from 1969. Additional claim, going back to 1967.

Life Magazine article from 1967; note graphic. "Hippies, as a warning to other hippies, sometimes wear buttons that say SPEED KILLS. The words of caution have nothing to do with traffic safety. They warn against a powerful drug popularly called “speed”—methamphetamine hydrochloride, best known by one of its trade names, Methedrine. "
posted by MonkeyToes at 6:27 PM on September 17, 2019 [7 favorites]

I'm going with (2) and seconding MonkeyToes.

Anecdata: In approx. 1987, I had a co-worker who was wound way too tight. Someone who was certainly not me coordinated an effort -- across several hundred people -- such that everyone who interacted with him on a particular day, and saw evidence of said state (so: everyone) would tell him, "Speed kills, Frank."

This did not make anything better for anyone, but was funny as hell.
posted by sourcequench at 6:49 PM on September 17, 2019 [8 favorites]

The earliest reference in Google Books is from 1943, and references a traffic safety campaign in Detroit. And by 1959, Lord Chesham was complaining in Parliament:
My Lords, I have seen that wretched poster, "Speed kills!", all over the country, as has every other driver.
Though there is some suggestion by his fellow Lords that the actual propaganda message was the far more British "Remember, it is pace that kills".
posted by serathen at 7:35 PM on September 17, 2019 [9 favorites]

Seconding serathen, I've heard it all my life, say since the 50s, in connection with driving safely.
posted by JimN2TAW at 8:25 PM on September 17, 2019 [2 favorites]

Yup. In Australia & in reference to road safety, it dates back to the early 50's at least. For example, the Road Safety Council of NSW campaign in 1951 was:
A smooth, uncrowded highway … a fast car. These are the conditions that make unsafe speed almost irresistible; conditions that can mean death unless we remember that the open road does mean 'open up.'

Speed kills
It was enough in the public consciousness that by 1952 it was snarkily referenced in newspaper letters columns:
The Hobart Tramways should direct the attention of many tram and bus drivers to the Road Safety Council's slogan, "Speed kills."
It harked back to an earlier slogan from 1947 - "The speed that thrills is the speed that kills."
posted by Pinback at 9:21 PM on September 17, 2019 [3 favorites]

I think the methamphetamine campaign was a riff on the older road-safety one. I had the dim idea that it was a British thing originally, but I remember hearing it in the ominous voiceover track to a driving safety film (not a video, but an actual film) shown in Drivers Ed that, judging by the cars involved, must have been made in the US in the late 50s or early 60s. (I suppose the film could have been made later with old footage, though.)
posted by Kadin2048 at 7:44 AM on September 18, 2019

There are also references in 19th century newspapers to "it is speed that kills the horse." It is also occasionally used metaphorically.
posted by interplanetjanet at 7:56 AM on September 18, 2019

I think the methamphetamine campaign was a riff on the older road-safety one.

Most definitely. I remember the traffic-safety campaign, and I remember the advent of the later drug-related one.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 8:06 AM on September 19, 2019

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