News & Views
Designing a crash-proof human

What has a concave face, extraordinarily thick skin, a chest full of sacks, and a heel in its calf? Introducing Graham, the odd-looking creation of Dr David Logan, road safety engineer at Monash University, Christian Kenfield, a trauma surgeon at Royal Melbourne Hospital, and artist Patricia Piccinini.

Project Graham was conceived as part of Australia’s Transport Accident Commission’s Toward Zero campaign, to demonstrate just how differently human beings would need to have evolved in order to be able to survive high-speed collisions.

“The truth is that cars have evolved a lot faster than we have,” explains Logan. “Our bodies are just not equipped to handle the forces involved in common crash scenarios.”

As anyone who has been on a road safety course will know, while your body might stop moving when you brake, your internal organs don’t. “The most significant part of the body for injury is the head,” says Kenfield. “As the head stops, the brain actually keeps moving forwards, smashing against the front part of the skull… The strongest man cannot hold himself from going forwards in a car accident.”

If it were possible to redesign the human body to be able to absorb the energy of high-speed crashes, then the priority would be slowing down over time, rather than stopping immediately. “We want to be thinking airbag rather than armour,” says Kenfield. Hence Graham’s barrel-like chest, and airbag-like moobs.

“What excites me about this project is its relevance to our community,” says Piccinini, who helped bring Graham to life. “For me, this is a challenge to make a work that’s not just a museum piece; it can be the vehicle for a very important idea.”

“Graham helps us understand why we need to improve every aspect of our roads system to protect ourselves from our own mistakes,” says Logan. And for those who have commented on Graham’s grotesque appearance; well, maybe body horror will be more a more effective tool than your average PSA when it comes to educating passengers and pedestrians on road safety.

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