Belts and Badges: A Century of the AAA School Safety Patrol

David Monforton
| December 15, 2023 | 2 Minute Read
Collage of safety patrollers

The AAA Safety Patrol program dates back to 1920. At the time, car production outpaced important infrastructure like traffic lights and stop signs. Additionally, drivers weren’t required to take a skills test to operate a motor vehicle. With little to no resources to help drivers navigate the roads, crossing those roads could be extremely perilous for pedestrians. This was especially the case for young children.

After witnessing a speeding car kill several children at a school crossing, Charles M. Hayes, then president of the Chicago Motor Club, vowed to help prevent such a horrific tragedy from happening again. He developed the AAA School Safety Patrol program so AAA clubs across the country could provide traffic safety guidance and resources for adults, children and schools. 

Historic photo of Safety Patrollers

By the 1930s, it became a national program. The National Safety Council and the National Congress of Parents and Teachers joined AAA to create standardized rules and guidelines for the Operation of School Boy Patrols. (At the time, only male students could become patrollers, but that started to change in the 1940s, when communities expanded recruitment to female students.) Those guidelines have evolved over the years to become the operating standards for all AAA School Safety Patrols in schools.

AAA School Safety Patrollers are volunteers within upper elementary, middle and junior high schools. The patrollers direct children, not traffic. These students are leaders in traffic safety, acting as role models to younger students and teaching fellow classmates the importance of traffic safety. The program boasts an impressive list of alumni that includes President Joe Biden, former presidents Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, Olympic athletes, Supreme Court judges and astronauts.

Safety patroller protecting other students from the street.

To participate in the program (with parental permission), safety patrollers must complete traffic safety training. Once they’ve completed the necessary requirements, student volunteers receive their safety patrol certificate, belt and badge. 

Group of Safety Patrollers on school steps

While the AAA safety patrol belt color has seen many iterations over the 103 years of the AAA School Safety Patrol Program—from white to neon orange to today’s fluorescent green—the program’s mission remains the same: to provide a safer environment and leadership opportunities for millions of students.

The AAA School Safety Patrol is the world’s largest safety program, with more than 679,000 safety patrollers in U.S. schools helping reduce injuries and fatalities among school-aged children (ages 5-14). The program has contributed to a steady decline in pedestrian deaths among students in the U.S.—a 24% decrease since 2010.

To date, at least 30 other countries have adopted the AAA model of safety patrols in schools, including the Netherlands, England, France, Germany and New Zealand.

Millions of children have benefitted from the AAA School Safety Patrol program throughout its existence. From a safer pedestrian environment to extensive educational and leadership opportunities for students, AAA has helped strengthen communities and schools through its historic School Safety Patrol program.

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