How cars shape us

How cars shape us

Eldest the other day drew my attention to a story from three years ago that I had somehow, unaccountably, missed. It was about how scientists, looking at data from car crashes including what happens to human bodies and what trauma surgeons have to deal with, had come up with the optimal shape humans should have to survive these events.

They went through the list of what body parts get mangled the most, and came up with ideas on how to redesign the human body so it can withstand the kind of force one usually sees in those situations.

Then they worked with an artist to build that human.

They called him Graham. I don’t mean to be nasty or anything, but he’s pretty ugly.

(Side note: One of those days I shall write a treatise on how useful having teenagers is to staying current. But not today.)

There are perfectly scientific and logical reasons for the way he looks, and if you go to the website, and you should, you’ll be able to hear them all.

Graham’s body isn’t meant to be attractive (yes I know; you’d gotten that far on your own). Its only design principle was to be built in such a way as to withstand a car crash, either as a driver/passenger or a pedestrian/cyclist.

Below, the gory details.

Knees that bend in multiple directions

See the problem with knees is that they’re designed to bend in one direction, and one direction only. They’re great when they work fine. But woe betide those who suffer any kind of blow forcing the knee to move in a direction it does not like.

In a car crash, this happens a lot, especially to pedestrians. Their knees break with fastidious regularity. That’s why Graham was designed with knees that move in all directions. The researchers did not say whether such joints would be any good for walking or jogging, but I’m going to guess not really. They’re certainly not optimal for dating.

Really thick skin

A pedestrian or cyclist getting hit by a car tends to scrape herself pretty badly on the pavement. Vehicle passengers are also liable to get cuts and abrasions from broken glass and other debris flying around when cars collide at — well, any kind of speed, really.

While many injuries can heal, a large cut to the face always leaves a mark. Severe abrasions can also cause important nerve damage. So the scientists gave Graham a much thicker skin. Awesome, you think? I don’t know. How would you like it if you couldn’t feel the touch of a loved one?


Massive skull

Among the things you’ll learn if you watch the video below is that our brains are designed to withstand everyday shocks. They are surrounded by a skull, for one thing, and also some kind of special liquid that cushions your cogitating machine when it crashes into the inside of your cranium.

The problem of course is that the forces involved in a car crash are vastly greater than we’re biologically equipped to handle. Solution? Give Graham a huge — and I mean, ginormous — skull complete with little air pockets that are designed to crumple first, protecting a brain whose size has not been modified. Graham is no more, and no less, brainy than we are. But his brain is a different kind of cage altogether.

Flat face

Apparently noses are fragile things, and of course they’re pretty sensitive so best protect them by removing most of the flesh, squishing the nasal opening back into the face, and inject the inside of Graham’s jowls with gobs of protective fat.

Add a five o’clock shadow to complete the lovely effect.

No neck

Necks are useful, especially if you enjoy turning your head every now and then. But they’re finicky, eh? And they contain the spine, which when damaged causes debilitating or even lethal injuries.

Simple solution? Take it out. Graham may not be able to turn his head, but his spine is protected by a rib cage that extends all the way to his chin.

Are these… nipples?

Your rib cage is designed to protect your inner organs and give you an easy target for tickling battles with your own personal toddler. But like our skulls, our rib cages were not designed to withstand the kind of forces we see in car crashes.

So of course Graham’s chest got expanded and fortified, giving him the look of an oak barrel, except that in-between the ribs his creators added organic air-bags, little sacs of … something that squirt liquid when squeezed in order to protect the inner organs better. The fact that they look like loose fatty inverted nipples is totally coincidental.

Maybe if we say his has elven legs?

And finally, to protect Graham’s tibias in case he’s ever hit by a car trying to cross the road, his creators gave him legs that look like those of an awkward antelope, adding a spare joint between the heel and knee so that Graham can jump out of the way of incoming cars already. Sort of like an elf if you ignore the non-existent ears and grossly misshapen body.

You can view Graham in all his glory in this video:

Once you’re done retching in horror, spare a few kind words for the scientists and artists whose work brought Graham to life. What they’ve done is nothing short of genius: To show us what cars do to us humans.

It’s not that cars are necessarily evil. They can in fact be quite practical. I own one, and drive it a few times a week to ferry my kids and get groceries when biking or walking to the store is inconvenient, or when I’m planning to bring back stuff that won’t fit in a backpack. One day, I dream of getting myself an electric cargo-bike so I can ferry all my stuff (and small people) without breaking a massive sweat. But they’re still outside my budget at the moment, given that I already own the damn car.

Private vehicles are a “sometimes necessary” tool, and we all have moments when it’s exactly what we need. I’m not saying we shouldn’t use them ever. What I am saying, however, is that these machines are not designed for our humanity. They’re designed to crush us so we fit their world, not the other way around.

Next time you’re tempted to waste your retirement fund on a high-powered muscle car, remember that the perfect body to go with this is not exactly the one you had in mind.

So thanks, Graham, for proving my point you ugly thick-skulled multi-nippled shapeless monster.