Also featuring interoperability, the nonexistent green new deal and more
Sorry this issue is out to you late. I was in a bad car crash a few weeks ago and have been out recovering, so I’ve decided to focus this issue on transportation technologies.
I also finally bought a house after three years of fighting the good fight against large investors and out-of-state buyers; sent my kid off to community college; and decided I had time to remodel a kitchen at night after work while also recovering from the crash. It’s been a hot minute of a month, y’all, and I’m really glad to be back.
Thanks for your patience, thank you for reading, and as always, feel free to share or like, or reply to let me know what you think!
💡 Big Ideas
TL;DR: We’ve come a long, long way towards making vehicular design safer and more accessible, but we’ve got a long way to go.
I was driving home from lunch with a friend in my beautiful, very-first-ever-brand-new-car, a 37th birthday gift to myself barely two months earlier. That car celebrated the long, hard road I’d taken to get to the point where I could afford it; I had a ‘better south, better world’ sticker on the back that exactly matched the shading, and I played my music loud everywhere I drove because the speakers were better than anything I’d ever owned, in a car or in a house.
All I saw was the tiniest flash of blue out of the corner of my eye, and then I was spinning, upside down, locked in, feet braced. It was over before I knew it and also seemed to last forever, suspended in this stretched-out moment in time where I knew what was happening but couldn’t quite understand it, where I just kept thinking about all the things I had planned and wanted to do, all the people I wanted to see.
A young kid ran a red light, and hit me on a left turn, and I flipped three times and came to rest upside down, arm wedged in the broken window, unable to move or to breathe or to think. I’d eventually let the bystanders who stopped convince me to let myself out by undoing my seatbelt with my only free hand, dropping onto my head, and being pulled out the window.
Yet I was incredibly lucky. I was driving a new car, which means it was much safer than all my other old beaters; I was driving a hybrid, which is built heavier to accommodate the battery and keeps crash destruction lower than in a lighter build. I was able to leave with only whiplash, concussion, and internal bruising – which was a miracle all on its own.
(Fun side note, it was only four days later that my own young kid, sixteen now, got a full drivers’ license, too. Needless to say, in addition to the physical recovery, there was – and is – some emotional recovery happening, too.)
The whole incident highlighted a couple of big social issues that I haven’t really had time to dig into but hope to in future installments: Homeless people were the first to stop and care for me. It’s shameful that in the US you have to always say no when they ask if you want an ambulance, because you know every ride is gonna cost $20K. And the fact that we rely solely on incident reports from cops who are, as we all know, not immune from bias and error to determine fault is pretty awful.
But that’s for later. Today, I’d like to tell you what I learned about how gendered and classist our transportation systems are – and how far we have to go to fix them.
The fact that I wasn’t hurt more is because newer cars are safer cars – and poor people, obviously, are generally more likely to die or suffer serious injury in accidents, because their cars have fewer safety features and new innovations.
On the other hand, the fact that I was hurt as much as I was – particularly the internal bruising and the whiplash – is because I’m a woman, and we still don’t merit a female test driver in all the safety tests the NHTSA runs every year.
Maria Khun and Hana Schank found that 10,000 women die in car crashes every year because of bad design that tests for safety using male drivers rather than female drivers. They also found that men are more likely to cause crashes, but women are more likely to die in them, and that women are 72% more likely to be injured in these crashes.
Women have different bone densities and muscle structures that require different approaches to seatbelts and airbags and door panels to make sure their bodies are safe, too. And yet, the federal government (the National Highway Safety Transportation Association, NHSTA, which provides all safety ratings for every car sold in America) allows tests to be run using only male drivers.
Khun and Schank found that “there is no mandated test that simulates a female driver…and for tests with the women in the passenger seat, the dummy used to represent women is merely a scaled down male – 4’ 11”, 108 pounds, and lacking any sort of internal morphology that distinguishes between sexes.”
The result? Those tests reduce crash damage for men – including whiplash by 71%, since the design of headrests and airbags is built around the way men’s necks are structured. As a result, women are injured more often and more severely than they would if safety equipment were designed for them.
Also, we’ve known this since at least 1980. NHTSA was supposed to implement a family of drivers and passengers of all sexes against which they could test safety equipment that year. The project was cut due to budget restrictions under the Reagan administration.
To this day, there’s no intention of testing safety ratings for female drivers, much less passengers.
I don’t know how to fix this one, folks, other than to ask states to put pressure on NHTSA by passing more restrictive safety laws requiring the presence of female drivers and passengers in the test dummies they use.
I just know that it doesn’t seem fair that for forty years we’ve known these things would not only fail to protect women but actively hurt them – and we’ve just kept on letting women get hurt, and permanently injured, and die, leaving their families and loved ones behind, because no one can be arsed to fix something we should have fixed before I was even born.
It also, of course, left me fully aware of my mortality and the tenuous, beautiful, fragile connection we all have to the moments that add up to our lives. I’ve lived in the hustle for a long time and spent the last three years trying to leave it behind. I’ve burned out trying to make the world a better place, make a living, make bosses love me, make jobs make me happy, make my kid happy, make my partner happy, make lives easier.
I’m convinced that 40% of my to do list is nonessential but I’m afraid to delete it because then who will I be? There’s identity, and then there’s survival, and as someone who came from nowhere I don’t know how to let go of this identity without letting go of survival, of success, of being able to pay all the bills and buy food whenever I want.
And, weirdly, despite all the righteous anger I just had in those paragraphs above about a situation that’s obviously in need of fixing – I miss my car. Why am I so sad about that car? It’s just a thing. It doesn’t matter that there won’t be another one of my Mimi (so named by my kids, short for Mimosa) because there’s a shortage. It can’t matter when people are dying from Delta; it can’t matter because it was just a material possession I’d been trained to want since birth by the American corporate marketing machine; it did nothing a basic car won’t do to get me from Point A to Point B, it’s just a style question and I don’t even wear makeup most days.
So why the hell do I still miss that damn car? I guess because it was mine, because it stood for something, because it was me trying to treat myself to something nice in a world that always seems determined to make it harder for poor kids in poor places; I guess I miss it because the me in that car, windows down, music flowing, was a version of me I’d hoped the world wouldn’t try to take away.
Other than writing to your legislators – which I think we all agree is futile most of the time – I guess that means I’ll encourage you this week to love on your people, to feel yourself in your skin, to breathe the air and drink the coffee and eat the food with a little more attention and intention this week. And, for that matter, to love on the things that represent you being better than the world said you could be, to appreciate and recognize those pieces of yourself that are about more than just survival.
With that, I’ll get back to our regularly scheduled sharing of goodtech resources and news.
🥑 Holy guacamole, that might actually work
Cool ideas for new ways of doing things
- City of Alexandria, VA Data Analytics Dashboard: This crowdsourced collection of cities and counties using data analytics to drive performance is compiled by Greg Useem.
San Jose’s Community Tech Support pilot trains high school students in tech & connects them as tech support lines for residents in their communities to keep them connected to broadband.
- The program enables “bridging the digital divide in the spirit of ‘for us, by us,’” according to Jordan Sun, Chief Innovation Officer for the City, by training high school students in the City through professional mentorship, tech training, and real-world tech experience. Now those youth work with residents who have recently been given computers and internet access by the City in San Jose, providing tech support in both English and Spanish!
- Read more about the program and connect with Jordan here.
💜 NEW: Speed Dating
Public meets private, sometimes with disastrous consequences
- It’s been eight years since the Harvard Business Review thought that social impact investing would be the new venture capital. Sadly, that prediction was incorrect.
- And one more for your eyeballs after the infrastructure bill last week: thinking through the implications of national policies on privately built infrastructure, energy sources and other networks can be tricky. So tricky, in fact, that it turns out that the Green New Deal’s Big Open Secret is – it doesn’t exist. Read more in the Atlantic.
One big idea, every week
Remove the time tax from programs that are supposed to help, and which you pay for with cold hard cash out of every check: a brilliant piece on the unseen barriers to accessing resources from Annie Lowrey in the Atlantic.
The United States government has not just given up on making benefits easy to understand and easy to receive. It has in many cases purposefully made the system difficult, shifting the burden of public administration onto individuals and discouraging millions of Americans from seeking aid. …The time tax is worse for individuals who are struggling than for the rich; larger for Black families than for white families; harder on the sick than on the healthy. It is a regressive filter undercutting every progressive policy we have. …The time tax needs to be measured. It needs to be managed. And it needs to end.
🥂 Upcoming Events
Monthly Goodtech Salon | 29 Sept | 6 pm EDT
We’re back to our regularly scheduled monthly salons in September – you can sign up for events and resources here. This month’s salon will be held Tuesday, Sept 29, at 6 pm EDT. Grab your favorite beverage and enjoy a night with other dedicated and amazing humans like yourself!
📚 I’m on a curiosity voyage, I need my paddlesBooks, podcasts, articles and more to feed your brain (props to anyone who recognizes that line!)
- It’s a classic, and a good look at the pending post-pandemic economy: David Graeber’s Debt
- Effective Altruism hosts a list of newsletters about everything you could possibly be interested in to help you save the world
- Minimum wage workerscan’t afford to rent anywhere in America
- Tech monopolies and the insufficiency of mandating interoperability – teaser and a full piece from Cory Doctorow
Have a great few weeks, y’all, and thanks for reading –
Shoutout to Canis (Kate, Harry, Manish, Kyle, and Josh!) for the words of dis-encouragement, the laughter and shaming me into finally getting this done. ❤