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Driving requires one to be a physicist

  1. Mar 2, 2013 #1
    It amazes me that some drivers seem to defy laws of physics concerning inertia, friction, and energy. While it isn't necessary to have a degree in physics to be a good driver, it certainly takes an intuitive understanding of physics. The materialist view, that the world is absolutely real, has served me well. I think drivers become potentially dangerous when they adopt the view that nothing bad can happen to them because they have a special relationship with the Almighty.
  2. jcsd
  3. Mar 2, 2013 #2
    I disagree, all it takes is driver's training school and a driving test with the driving instructor. Driving skills are mostly unconscious and implemented at the level of the spinal cord, brain stem/cerebellum. There's no mentally solving for distance and acceleration going on here.
    Last edited by a moderator: Mar 7, 2013
  4. Mar 2, 2013 #3
    It is certainly your prerogative to disagree, but simply because an activity is performed unconsciously does mean it entails no intuitive understanding of physics. We must learn to ride a bicycle, because it involves steering to balance the pull of gravity against centrifugal force, and eventually we do this unconsciously, but that does not mean our intuitive understanding of physics is disregarded. Furthermore, being a good driver definitely involves the cerebrum in making judgements about stopping distance or traction while negotiating a curve, both of which require an intuitive grasp of physics. To be clear, "intuitive" means knowing what to expect a body in motion to do without knowing the wording of Newton's laws of motion.
    Last edited: Mar 2, 2013
  5. Mar 2, 2013 #4


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    Yeah, that's what I thought about skiing too. :grumpy:
  6. Mar 3, 2013 #5
    The term "good driver" can mean different things.

    Jeff Gordon must understand the physics of driving for the same reason that any athlete must understand the rules of the game he plays. He is a good driver in that he wins races.

    My mother understands very little physics. She drives with the philosophy of "if in doubt, slow down". She is a good driver in that she has been several decades now without an accident.

    Dannica Patrick is a good driver because men like watching pretty women drive fast, therefore she can command substantial advertising revenue. While she probably does understand the physics of driving, it's not what makes her successful.

    So, before you can say that being a "good driver" requires an understanding of physics you need to define what you mean by "good driver".
  7. Mar 3, 2013 #6
    Of course by "good driver" I mean one who manages to avoid getting into accidents. Besides an intuitive grasp of physics, I think being a safe driver also entails prudent risk management. For example, I slow down while driving through busy intersections, because the probability of a collision there is much higher, so I'm prepared to "stop on a dime," if necessary. The greatest risk seems to be when it's two lanes each way, and you're in the right lane driving straight through, while a vehicle is in the left lane waiting to make a left turn. This vehicle may obscure my view of another vehicle, traveling in the opposite direction, making a left turn and about to cross in front of me. So I am always ready to stop suddenly if that happens. Incidentally, it takes at least an intutive grasp of physics to judge how fast you can go and still be able to stop in a short distance.
  8. Mar 3, 2013 #7
    Me too LOL
  9. Mar 6, 2013 #8


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    I agree that driving requires one to be a physicist. How else would you know that when the light turns yellow, all you have to do is speed up enough and the Doppler shift will make it turn green again?
  10. Mar 6, 2013 #9
    Tell that to the judge. It won't work, I tried that. The end result is that I, instead, got a speeding ticket for going .8c and boy, you should've seen the cost of THAT speeding ticket. I would have taken the running the red light ticket anyday...
  11. Mar 7, 2013 #10


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    Which drivers defy these?
    Disagree. You don't have to understand any of the underlying physics. The whole thing can just be a black box learned through instruction and practice. If you take a driver an then teach them some physics then depending on what you're teaching some of it would be recognisable.

    I'm reminded of this thread:
    Perhaps I'm missing the joke here but are you arguing that atheists are better drivers?
  12. Mar 7, 2013 #11


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    I'm confident that understanding some basic physics can help one to become a better driver.

    Consider those driving older cars without anti-lock breaks. When skidding in snow or rain (or even dry concrete if trying to stop really quickly)-- thus failing to stop -- the unaware may likely press on the break pedal even harder, out of false intuition. Someone who has studied friction will know not to do this, and instead ease up on the breaks until the wheels start rolling again. "Really, in order to stop sooner I need to ease up on the breaks?" Yes.

    Speaking of racing, in order to traverse around a closed track as fast as possible (the track doesn't need to be oval, but it does need to eventually loop around), and assuming the car has decent torque and horsepower as race cars do, it requires breaking over about roughly half the track (and about roughly half the time)*. "Really? Applying the breaks about half the time makes a race car go faster?" Yes. Try explaining that to somebody without mentioning at least a little physics.

    *(Okay it's less than half, but not too much less than half.)

    [Edit: The breaking on the racetrack idea doesn't apply to perfectly circular tracks. It does apply however to oval tracks and most winding tracks that have a good mixture of straightaways and curves.]
    Last edited: Mar 7, 2013
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