It Starts with Data

Like many commuters, I listen to podcasts, and, again like many commuters, one of my favorite podcasts is 99% Invisible. The show is about design and all of the ways that design shapes the word, mostly in ways we don’t see unless somebody points them out to us.

The most recent episode is “The Nut Behind the Wheel”.

When I saw the episode title, I naturally thought it referred to a generic nut behind the wheel — or rather, that humans are just bad drivers.

But the episode actually refers to a specific nut, Hugh DeHaven, who Wikipedia refers to as, “the father of crash survivability”.

DeHaven created the first comprehensive database of crash information, which has since become NHTSA’s Fatality Analysis Reporting System. This database collects extensive data on every fatal automotive crash in the United States.

This data is used by automotive manufacturers, safety certification organizations, and governmental regulators, all of whom study the crashes to find ways to make cars safer. 60 years ago, this started with the collapsible steering column, and of course it’s grown to include airbags, crumple zones, and collision alerts.

It’s a great podcast episode and kind of a wild story, including DeHaven getting up on ladders and dropping containers with eggs, to see what materials cushioned the fall best.

Everything starts with collecting data. As the proverb goes, what gets measured gets managed.

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