If Humans Were Built to Withstand a Car Crash, They Might Look Like This

February 26, 2018

If you have regularly driven or ridden in a car, odds are you have had a fender bender. You may have also been involved in an actual crash.


Whether a minor or serious collision, car accidents are no joke. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), over the course of 2014 there were 32,675 accident-related fatalities in the U.S. alone. Luckily, auto engineers are working around the clock to create new, increasingly safer vehicles. Engineers constantly design, test and redesign vehicles to get the best picture of the dangers involved, and save as many lives as possible. 


Yet the fact remains: No matter how safe cars are now or become in the future, the human body is simply not capable of withstanding the forces involved when something goes wrong.


But what if we approached this dilemma another way? What if, instead of evolving cars to fit people, we evolved people to fit cars? What would we become? These are the questions artist Patricia Piccinini asked when she teamed up with trauma surgeon Christian Kenfield and collision expert David Logan. Their answers resulted in a sculpture — a human adapted specifically to survive car crashes. His name? Graham.


While Graham looks related to humans, he would stick out in a crowd. His skull is much larger than average. His brain is the same as ours, but encased in a better helmet. (It's surrounded by more cerebrospinal fluid, and his skull has, essentially, crumple zones.) His face is covered in fatty tissue to protect his nose, sinuses and ears from steering wheels, dashboards and breaking glass.


He also does not have a neck. Instead, his ribs go all the way to his skull, providing much better support for his head. When we follow these ribs down to his rib cage, we find it's filled with what the artist calls "organic airbags." These excrete a fluid upon impact, providing much more protection than our conventional musculoskeletal structure. Graham's skin is also thicker and tougher, to reduce the likelihood of abrasions.

If Graham encounters a situation beyond even his enhanced physiology, he has one more ace in the hole: An extra joint on each foot allows him to make a spring-loaded jump away from danger.


Of course, despite the photo-realistic level of detail, Graham is not a living being. And there are, at this point, no plans to make him one. Instead, Piccinini and her team intend Graham to be a conversation starter. He is an educational tool, meant to emphasize the importance of safety systems, and to remind us all how vulnerable we actually are, a visual reminder of what it would take for humans to withstand the punishment of a car crash.


Bowlin, Ben. (2016). "If Humans Were Built to Withstand a Car Crash, They Might Look Like This".  Retrieved from https://auto.howstuffworks.com/under-the-hood/trends-innovations/humans-were-built-withstand-a-car-crash-they-might-look-this.htm.

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