Introducing Graham: the only person designed to survive on our roads

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21 Jul 2016

Evolutionary science and human vulnerability are at the centre of a new Victorian initiative to reduce road deaths and injuries.

The Transport Accident Commission today launched its latest road safety project, highlighting how susceptible the human body is to the forces involved in transport accidents.

In a shift from its traditional road safety campaigns, the TAC has collaborated with a leading trauma surgeon, a crash investigation expert and a world-renowned Melbourne artist to produce ‘Graham’, an interactive lifelike sculpture demonstrating human vulnerability.

Graham has been designed with bodily features that might be present in humans if they had evolved to withstand the forces involved in crashes. Studies have shown that the human body can only cope with impacts at speeds people can reach on their own, unassisted by vehicles.

“People can survive running at full pace into a wall but when you’re talking about collisions involving vehicles, the speeds are faster, the forces are greater and the chances of survival are much slimmer,” TAC chief executive officer Joe Calafiore said.

“Cars have evolved a lot faster than humans and Graham helps us understand why we need to improve every aspect of our roads system to protect ourselves from our own mistakes.”

Mr Calafiore said the science of human vulnerability underpinned Victoria’s new Towards Zero approach to road trauma reduction.

“We have to accept people will always make mistakes, but modern vehicle safety technology and safe road design can drastically reduce the forces involved when a crash happens, making them more survivable,” Mr Calafiore said.

Royal Melbourne Hospital trauma surgeon Christian Kenfield and Monash University Accident Research Centre crash investigator David Logan briefed Melbourne sculptor Patricia Piccinini to develop Graham.

The installation will be on show at the State Library of Victoria until August 8, before going on a roadshow. Victorians can also interact with Graham online at

In an Australian first, Victorians will be able to use Google Tango, the latest in immersive augmented reality technology, to look beneath Graham’s skin and better understand how his unique features would work to cushion him from serious injury in a crash.

School curriculum has also been developed to enhance the learning experience for students visiting Graham in person or online.

“Graham is an educational tool that will serve the community for years to come as a reminder of why we need to develop a safer road system that will protect us when things go wrong,” Mr Calafiore said.

High res images and video for media use are available at the links below.

For Media Only: Download Meet Graham Media Kit

More images, diagrams and video are available from
YouTube Version Show video transcript

The truth is that cars have evolved
a lot faster than we have.

Our bodies are just not equipped
to handle the forces

in common crash scenarios.

I'm Dr David Logan.

I'm a Senior Research Fellow

at the Monash University
Accident Research Centre.

My name's Christian Kenfield.

I'm a trauma surgeon here
at the Royal Melbourne Hospital.

My name Patricia Piccinini
and I'm an artist.

On a nearly daily basis, I see the
effects of motor vehicle accidents,

both passengers, drivers,

and, of course, the pedestrians
that are involved in these accidents.

In the modern world we're subjecting
our bodies to much higher speeds

and the body just doesn't have
the physiology to absorb the energy

when things go wrong.

The dangers at even low speeds such
as 25, 30, 25km/h is quite great.

So if we were to try to design
the body, if we were able to do that,

in a way that would afford
more protection...

It's a difficult question. It's not
something that we think about often.

What excites me about this project is
its relevance to our community.

I get to collaborate
with really interesting people

and that's really energising.

I really feel as though it's possibly
to make a difference in road safety.

We really work hard on developing
evidence-based research.

In 50% of crashes,
the car doesn't have time to break.

PATRICIA: So what happens
to the body?

Does it go under or over?

For the higher cars,
like four-wheel drives,

instead of going over the top
of the bonnet,

if they're high enough,
they'll catch you

and they'll drag you underneath

The most significant part of the body
for injury is the head.

And so as the head stops, the brain
actually keeps moving forwards,

smashing against
the front part of the skull,

and then bouncing backwards

and getting an injury
on the back of the head as well.

And we just don't appreciate when
we're talking about it

the forces in a car accident,
but they're incredible.

The strongest man cannot hold himself
from going forwards in a car accident

because the forces are so great.

A crash is about managing energy,

so when we're moving along the road,
we have energy.

When we suddenly stop the car
because we're in a crash,

that energy has to be absorbed
by the car and by the driver.

It would be great
if we had more protection.

We want to stop over time.

What we need to be thinking
is airbag rather than armour.

It's sad that we need to think about
changing our body

just so that we can survive
a motor vehicle crash.

this is a challenge to make it work,

that it's not just a museum piece.

It can be the vehicle
for a very important idea.

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