As part of her ongoing Visuals series for NYT Science, Hannah Fairfield asked for my help with an interactive graphic exploring how younger drivers are more at-risk of a crash when they've been drinking. The National Transportation Safety Board recently recommended that states lower the current blood-alcohol limit of 0.08 percent to 0.05 percent.
Initially, this involved working with Andrew Lehren from the Times CAR team to run some queries against FARS – the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's extensive database of vehicle collisions. It was instructive to see Andy's meticulous use of Excel and MS Access to incrementally build calculations and queries – it reminded me a bit of adding unit tests to subroutines in a large codebase.
After trying several alternative forms, Hannah and I settled on a cellular matrix that creates a heatmap of fatal crashes contrasting age with levels of intoxication. It was interesting to see Hannah's process first hand as she chased down the story and adapted the visual format to emphasize the BAC levels where younger drivers are most at risk. After deciding to add a transition to a second panel showing how crash rates vary by hour and days of the week, it was quite a surprise to get an email from fellow graphics editor Mike Bostock commenting on a TODO I'd left myself to improve SVG animation performance. Preview – the tool he built that helps NYT Graphics integrate git versioning and automatic staging into our workflow – is truly an omniscient oracle!