In the 50's cars sported elaborate hood ornaments, fins, and other purely stylistic features to craft brand image. Occasionally, a pedestrian would be impaled or disemboweled by dagger-like ornamentation, but this would be dismissed as isolated incidents and unfortunate accidents blamed solely on the driver or pedestrian. In 1959, Henry Wakeland studied accident and autopsy reports from pedestrian fatalities showing case after case of victims pierced by ornaments, sharp bumper and fender edges, headlight hoods, medallions, and fins, even in slow collisions under 14mph. Seeing this all together made a compelling argument that car design has responsibility for the consequences of accidents. Nader's 1965 best-seller Unsafe At Any Speed was instrumental in the creation of the 1966 National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety Act creating federal auto safety standards. US auto fatalities has dropped from a peak of 54,052 deaths in 1973 to 32,719 in 2013, even though we are driving far more. Fatalities dropped from 4.12 per 100 million vehicle miles traveled to 1.11. Improved design has made driving vastly safer now.
What does this have to do with AcroYoga? The most important element in any culture to promote safety is a willingness to look at accidents, talk about them openly, and examine them collectively for patterns. Unfortunately, what I've seen in our community discourages that. A focus on positivity doesn't want the negative energy that comes with talking about injury. Injuries and consequences don't fit with the social media image-crafting that sells fun and play. People who are injured blame themselves and are ashamed. People who are injured seriously leave the community so that our perception of risks suffers a selection bias. No one wants to highlight this aspect of the sport. While understandable, this is a problem of culture.
If we want to make our sport safer, we need to change the culture to normalize talking publicly and collectively about what can go wrong and how we get hurt. Everyone I know who has done acro for any significant length of time has their own stories of accidents and what they've learned from them. The more we pool that group wisdom, the safer we will all be.
This injury study will create a database of AcroYoga injuries so that we can all learn from each other's experiences. If teachers encourage students to share their stories there, that would be a positive step towards embracing a stronger culture of safety. Please take a look, share your own experience, and pass it on.
The AcroYoga Curmudgeon