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Physics research study - vehicle safety and braking distances

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Physics Write up


Thinking Distance

  • Thinking distance - It takes time for a driver to react to a situation. During this reaction time the car carries on moving. The thinking distance is the distance travelled in between the driver realising he needs to brake and actually braking.
  • Braking distance - The braking distance is the distance taken to stop once the brakes are applied.

The thinking distance and stopping distance add together make the stopping distance the stopping distance is how far you went before you finally stopped. The stopping distance is your thinking distance and stopping distance added together.

The formula for working out the stopping distance is:

Stopping distance = thinking

Distance + braking distance

2.)  There are variety of factors that affect the thinking distance one of the main factors is tiredness.

Tiredness increases the breaking distance because

when you are tired  Your brain thinks slower  and you will not be able to apply the brakes as quickly.

Another factor that increases thinking distance is being

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driver that they might have to stopsoon.
more alert a driver is, the faster their reaction time,
quicker they can apply the brakes
and the 
smaller is the thinkingdistance.

Factors affecting the breaking distance

In general

The braking distance is affected by 3 main factors

1.  Velocity.

2.  Mass.

3.  Conditions (friction).


If the mass of the vehicle increase(more passengers baggage) the vehicle will now have greater kinetic energy

If the friction between the tyres and the road is decreased e.g a wet greasy or icy road reduces the amount of friction and increases the breaking distance


A faster vehicle has greater kinetic energy which increases the breaking distance


These are distances a car travels, over the time it takes for you to bring the vehicle to a full stop. These assumptions are figures for a well maintained car, with good brakes and tyres, an alert driver, and a dry road, in daylight.


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Crash barriers along the road work in a similar way, they absorb energy as they are deformed over a distance, and this is better than having this energy absorbed by the car. An example of a crash barrier is a series of water filled barrels. As they are smashed by the car the water inside shoots in all directions, and it takes energy to displace the water this way. 
Some examples of road surface technology that improves safety are: (1) a slight crest to the road to cause rain water to run off towards the side of the road, which avoids puddles and cars hydroplaning; (2) grooves cut into the road surface to channel water away, used on cement highways because cement can better keep the grooves compared to macadam, and it is more important on highways where speeds are faster; (3) rumble strips at the edge of a highway causes a loud noise that wakes up drifting drivers; (4) the raised pavement markers between lanes serve a similar purpose and are many times also reflective (the domed shaped ones are sometimes called Botts Dots after Elbert Botts who invented them); (5) then there's the good old speed bumps used to slow cars in areas of pedestrian traffic.

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3 star(s)

There is little structure to this report and the information has clearly been taken from a variety of sources without being referenced.
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*** (3 stars)

Marked by teacher Luke Smithen 29/05/2013

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