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2 Physics Lessons That Could Save Your Life

gravityIt’s been cold in Atlanta this week. Thursday evening we had a rain and snow event which left our roads icy and dangerous.

I’ve lived in places that routinely get weather like this, but Atlanta gets it so infrequently that people don’t get a chance to develop the skills to drive when conditions are icy. More importantly, we don’t work on the skill of deciding not to drive. I saw several interviews on the news with drivers who thought they could handle it, but they were wrong.

Many smart people of science have made great discoveries about how consistently the world works, and if we take the time to understand the rules they have discovered, we could save ourselves from life-threatening accidents. Because, you see, you can hardly call them accidents when nature is performing as predicted.

  1. Gravity works, always. The exact rate of acceleration that the earth’s gravity is responsible for (9.8 meters per second squared) doesn’t matter. What matters is that it is relentless. The farther away you take yourself from a stable, level surface, the greater will be your speed at impact with the next surface between you and the earth. Climbing a ladder without setting it up correctly, or getting on a roof without the right kind of harness or other safety precaution, or just jumping on a trampoline without spotters are all activities that people insist upon as though gravity won’t be a nuisance to them.
  2. Machines can multiply forces. Why is this important? Think about your car. If you are old enough to have driven a car that didn’t have power steering, you know that having two hands on the wheel was necessary at all times. Your car wants to travel in a straight line. When you turn the wheel, even a little bit, your front wheels dig into the pavement with tremendous force to move the car into another direction. But power brakes and steering make us feel like those forces are minimal. So when I heard a driver say he though he could handle the icy hill, he was totally neglecting the fact that without the tires biting into the pavement, no steering matters, the car wants to go in a straight line. The center of the car. It may start to fishtail a bit and move sideways, but the center is moving straight, and no amount of steering is going to change how the tires behave on ice.

So that’s it. Ice is not asphalt, and gravity never quits.

Any simple science lessons you have encountered that help you be safer?

Thanks, and let’s be careful out there.

Anna at abdpbt is responsible for the effort to Fight Listless Mondays. Find other list links on her blog. Her lists and the others linked there always give you something to think about, and may even make you smile!
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3 Responses to 2 Physics Lessons That Could Save Your Life

  1. abdpbtNo Gravatar says:

    No science experiments, but the same phenomenon exists here when it comes to driving after a rain. It does not matter how long I live here, people in LA just cannot figure out how to drive in the rain.

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  2. janaNo Gravatar says:

    Same here! It rains like half the year in Florida and people still don’t know how to drive after it rains.

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    TimNo Gravatar Reply:

    In the icy conditions, it’s not so much a question about “how to drive” because the car cannot overcome the challenge. I drove, but there were times when the operator was not in full control of the vehicle. In that case “knowing how to drive” meant keeping space around you, and not moving too fast.
    I didn’t have an incident, but the potential was there.

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