What do Presidents Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton and George Bush, Vice President Joe Biden, five Supreme Court justices, numerous Olympic medalists and economist and Nobel Prize winner Gary Becker have in common?

As youngsters, they all belonged to the AAA’s School Safety Patrol, a kids-protecting-kids program now celebrating its 95th year of operation. It has made it possible for child patrollers to save 411 kids in the United States since 1949, the year the AAA began recording safety data.

“This program is definitely life-saving,” says Lindsey Pavlick, who leads the AAA School Safety Patrol initiative in Florida, Georgia and Tennessee. “It makes a huge difference in schools, in local communities. In particular, the program is not only the largest traffic safety program on earth, but also it’s a great program to have in schools for kids to learn leadership qualities and good citizenship.”

Related: How to Keep Your Kids Safe at the Bus Stop

Since the program began in 1935, U.S. pedestrian death rates for kids 5 through 15 – either on their way to school or heading home – have dropped steadily. From 2005 to 2013, fatalities decreased by nearly a third, according to statistics compiled by AAA. The AAA School Safety Patrol Program has helped reduce these tragedies, Pavlick notes.

“Just in the past year, there were two patrollers on duty who saved the life of a fellow classmate in our region,” Pavlick says.

And in Seattle, Washington, a fifth grader and safety patroller saved three children from being run over by a car that ran a red light. The patroller, whose name is Jonah, flagged the driver to stop just before he struck the children. “It was kind of scary, but also exhilarating,” Jonah told television reporters. “I have a whole team of friends to back me up, and I get to keep them safe.”

How it works

The streets outside schools today are a snarl of busses, delivery trucks and stressed-out parents vying for space during drop-off and pick-up hours. The program teaches students in the patrol to help other kids navigate safely across those streets. Patrollers learn how to recognize traffic hazards and work in tandem with an adult crossing guard, who manages traffic flow while patrollers help children cross the street.

Student patrollers also help students move safely on and off the school bus. The badges worn by volunteers denote their rank, from patroller to captain, lieutenant and sergeant.

The program operates under the umbrella of AAA’s Auto Club Group Traffic Safety Foundation, a non-profit organization focused on making schools, communities and roads safer for everyone.

AAA provides equipment and materials to schools at cost, including electric-lime-green fluorescent belts, nickel plated steel badges and training. Armed with uniforms and skills, kids are ready to help their grade school classmates get to and from school safely every day.

Related: How to Safely Ride a Bike with Your Child

Calling all boys and girls

What began in 1920 as a boys-only program has grown into a global safety initiative for girls and boys in all 50 states and more than 30 countries, from England, France, Germany and the Netherlands to New Zealand. Today, the program counts more than 635,000 patrollers in 33,500 U.S. schools.

If your school district doesn’t have a School Safety Patrol, contact the AAA for information about starting one.

“I’ve been told by many schools how this makes a difference, helping kids achieve self-confidence and build strong leadership skills that last a lifetime,” Pavlick says. “It’s a wonderful program.”

Related: Back to School Smarts

Steve Evans, MA, is an award-winning journalist with more than 20 years experience in daily news, investigative, health and business journalism. Among other jobs, he has served as managing editor of the Central Virginia Newspaper Group, as a senior writer for SNL Financial and as a staff writer for The Progress Index and the Richmond Times-Dispatch.