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Hugh DeHaven (1895-1980)

Hugh De Haven was an inventor and entrepreneur and is hailed as the “Father of crash worthiness research”. Midway through a mechanical engineering program, he volunteered in the Canadian Royal Flying Corps in 1917, and survived a midair collision with serious injuries which possibly resulted in his interest in crash injuries. De Haven completed his military service observing injury patterns and the orizing that wounds can be prevented by redesigning and reconfiguring the elements in the plane’s interior.

After working as an inventor from 1920 to 1933, De Haven began his own independent studies on physical forces associated with falls. He first observed dropping eggs onto foam from a height of 10 feet (3 m), and then studied the patterns of head injuries in fall victim patients at Bellevue hospital. With the collected newspaper clippings he studied the case reports of “miraculous survivors” of eight falls and calculated the forces involved in the falls and their associated injury patterns. This led to De Haven’s influential paper, “Mechanical Analysis of Survival in Falls from Heights of Fifty to One Hundred and Fifty Feet”, published in War Medicine in 1942.

In 1942, with initial support of the National Research Council, De Haven founded the Crash Injury Research project (CIR) at Cornell University Medical Center where he served as Director and principle researcher from 1942 to 1954. In 1953, in collaboration with Elmer Paul of the Indiana Police, he began the Automotive Crash Injury Research Project (ACIR), a programme focused on building safety into automobiles. Along with Dr. William Haddon, Hugh De Haven was instrumental in founding the National Safety Bureau in 1966.

De Haven was associated with the invention of the three-point seat belt. Other transportation safety innovations that can be directly or indirectly credited to him are the inertial control seat belt, passive restraints, dashboard padding, safer passenger seats, air bags, recessed and collapsible steering columns, and fewer protruding instruments on control panels. He received several awards for his safety work during his career.

Using a series of case studies based on simple observations and applying an inductive approach, De Haven formulated a general theory of prevention. In essence, that theory says that the basic laws of physics operate as well in human injury as in other domains. Hugh De Haven, from whose work much of the modern field of injury control derives, was the first to realize the central importance of injury thresholds in body mechanical energy exchanges and that it was these thresholds, together with impact conditions (not velocity of impact per se) that solely determine the injury outcome when specific amounts of energy are dissipated.

De Haven's work was of immense practical importance because it showed that the ability of the normal body to sustain very brief mechanical energy exchanges without fatal injuries is so unexpectedly great that a substantial majority of the vehicle occupants fatally injured in crashes would have survived, often without injury, if their vehicles had been designed to provide appropriate occupant "crash-packaging".

Above material sourced from:

  1. Haddon Jr, W., 1980. Advances in the epidemiology of injuries as a basis for public policy. Public health reports, 95(5), p.411.

  2. Gangloff, A., 2013. Safety in accidents: Hugh De Haven and the development of crash injury studies. Technology and Culture, 54(1), pp.40-61.

  3. Ramsey, C., 2015. Hugh De Haven (1895-1980): Father of Crashworthiness Research. Aerospace medicine and human performance, 86(9), pp.849-849.

  4. BSM, 1983. Finding aid to the Hugh De Haven, PhD (1895-1980) papers. Medical Center Archives of Newyork-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell, New York.

  5. Winston, K.F., 2000. Editor’s comment: Injury Classic. Injury prevention, 6(1), pp.62-68

See also :

  1. De Haven, H. (1942) Mechanical analysis of survival in falls from heights of fifty to one hundred and fifty feet. War Med 2: 586-596. (Full text).

  2. De Haven,  H. and Hasbrook, A. H. (1951) Use and Effectiveness of Shoulder Harness in Surplus Military Aircraft Flown by Civilian Pilots. New York: Crash Injury Research, Cornell University Medical College. (Full text).

  3. De Haven, H. (1952) Accident Survival – Airplane and Passenger Automobile. Annual Meting SAE 1952. (Full text).

  4. De Haven, H., Tourin, B. and Macri, S. (1953) Aircraft Safety Belts: Their Injury Effect on the Human Body. New York: Crash Injury Research, Cornell University Medical College. (Full text).

  5. A paper by A. Howard Hasbrook, The historical development of the crash-impact engineering point of view. In Accident Research: Methods and Approaches, W. Haddon, E. A. Suchman, and D. Klein, Harper & Row Publishers, 1964. (Full text).

Selected Publications :

  1. De Haven H (1942): Mechanical analysis of survival in falls from heights of fifty to one hundred and fifty feet. War Med 2: 586-596.

  2. De Haven, H., 1944. Mechanics of injury under force conditions. Mech. Eng, 66(4), pp.264-268.

  3. De Haven, H., 1944. Cause of Injuries in Light Plane Accidents. Aero Digest Aviation Engineering, 1.

  4. De Haven, H., 1945. The relationship of injuries to structure in survivable aircraft accidents. NRC Report, 440.

  5. De Haven, H. (1944). "Injury in Light Aircraft Accidents." The Air Surgeon's, Bulletin

  6. De Haven, H., 1946. Crash research from the point of view of cabin design. Aeronautical Engineering Review, 5(6), pp. 11-17.

  7. De Haven,H.:Research on crash injuries(editorial).JAMA131:524,June 1946.

  8. De Haven, H., 1950. Crash Deceleration, Crash Energy, and Their Relationship to Crash Injury. Tech. Rep. No. 6242, Medical College, Cornell Univ., Dec. 1950.

  9. De Haven, H. and Hasbrook, A.H., 1951. Use of Effectiveness of Shoulder Harness in Surplus Military Aircraft Flown by Civilian Pilots. Cornell Univ Ithaca Ny.

  10. De Haven, H., 1952. Crash study can reduce chances of injury. Public Safety, 41: 8-9, pp. 28-29.

  11. De Haven, H., 1952. Current safety considerations in the design of passenger seats for transport aircraft. Cornell Univ Medical Coll New York.

  12. De Haven, H., Tourin, B. and Macri, S., 1953. Aircraft safety belts: their injury effect on the human body. Cornell-Guggenheim Aviation Safety Center New York.

  13. De Haven, H., 1953. Development of crash-survival design in personal,executive and agricultural aircraft, Crash Injury Research, Cornell Uni-versity Medical College, New York.

  14. Griswold, R. and H. De Haven (1955). Combination Shoulder and Lap Safety Belts, Patent Office, Washington, DC.

  15. De Haven, H. and Hasbrook, A.H., 1956. Shoulder harness: its use and effectiveness. Cornell University Aviation Crash Injury Research

  16. De Haven H (1964). "Accident Survival-Airplane and Passenger Automobile". In Haddon W, Suchman EA, Klein D. Accident Research. Methods and approaches. New York: Harper & Rowe.

  17. De Haven, H., 1969. Beginnings of crash injury research. In Accident Pathology: Proceedings of an International Conference (pp. 8-11).

  18. De Haven H (2000). "Mechanical analysis of survival in falls from heights of fifty to one hundred and fifty feet. 1942". Inj. Prev. 6 (1): 62–8. doi:10.1136/ip.6. 62-68.  (Reprinted article)