A Rant About Physics and Road Bullies

(This was an article I wrote for OdysseyOnLine in 2016)

Yes, I am angry-pissed off-frustrated-annoyed-fuming-livid and just plain mad. I am sick and tired of road bullies terrorizing others. Let me explain.

 

I am not going to pretend to understand math and science. Specifically, I am not going to pretend that I can explain physics. What I do know is that physics is a science using math to explain things like motion, gravity, space, and all things over which I have no control. Yet, some of the basic ideas in physics appear to be somewhat logical even to me.

I am also not going to pretend to understand aggressive drivers and road rage. “An estimated eight million drivers admit to more extreme behavior, according to new AAA research. Nearly 80 percent of drivers expressed significant anger, aggression or road rage behind the wheel at least once in the past year, according to a new study released today by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety.

The most alarming findings suggest that approximately eight million U.S. drivers engaged in extreme examples of road rage, including purposefully ramming another vehicle or getting out of the car to confront another driver.” None of this seems logical to me.

What I do know about road rage and aggressive drivers is that most of them appear to be men in big trucks, mixed with the occasional middle-aged woman in a minivan or large SUV. I have no statistics to prove this, just my careful observation.

The aggressive behavior I most often encounter is tailgating. No, I am not referring to the cookout and beer drinking events before football games and concerts. I am talking about the driver who pulls within less than one car length of your rear bumper in a vain attempt to make you drive faster or get out of their way. I simply want to ask them, “Who elected you king of the road?” or more directly, “What the heck do you think you are doing?”

Back to physics for a moment. Newton developed three laws of motion that can be applied directly to the problem at hand.

*Newton ‘s First Law of Motion:

Every object will remain at rest or in uniform motion in a straight line unless compelled to change its state by the action of an external force.

*Newton’s Second Law of Motion

F=MA Force = Mass Acceleration The force acting on an object is equal to the mass of that object times its acceleration.

*Newton’s Third Law of Motion

To every action there is always opposed an equal reaction; or, the mutual actions of two bodies upon each other are always equal, and directed to contrary parts.

I will be so bold as to interpret Newton’s laws of motion as applied to aggressive drivers who tailgate. When a vehicle tailgates another vehicle it “compels” the other vehicle using external force (hitting it) and changes it action (direction and shape). When a vehicle is tailgating, the size and speed of the vehicle determine how much damage is done to the vehicle it hits. The opposite and equal reaction of being hit from behind by a vehicle they exert a force on each other. People are hurt and vehicles are damaged.

Sheldon from “The Big Bang Theory” explains it best:

Sheldon: Look, you’re not leaving yourself enough space between cars.

Penny: Oh, sure I am.

Sheldon: No, no. Let me do the math for you, this car weighs let’s say 4,000lb, now add say 140 for me, 120 for you.

Penny: 120?

Sheldon: Oh, I’m sorry, did I insult you? Is your body mass somehow tied into your self-worth?

Penny: Well, yeah.

Sheldon: Interesting. Anyway, that gives us a total weight of, let’s say, 4,400lb.

Penny: Let’s say 4,390.

Sheldon: Fine. We’re traveling forward at, good Lord, 51 miles an hour. Now let’s assume that your brakes are new and the calipers are aligned, still, by the time we come to a stop, we’ll be occupying the same space as that Buick in front of us, an impossibility that nature will quickly resolve into death, mutilation and… oh look, they built a new put-put course.

— Big Bang Theory Series 01 Episode 04 – “The Luminous Fish Effect”

Why am I ranting about this you might wonder? Four years ago, I was involved in a five-car accident that resulted from someone in a larger vehicle following too close at a high rate of speed. It resulted in injuries and damages to all cars involved. After four years, we are still in litigation over this. All because someone was being a bully on the road.  Yes, I said bully, because in my opinion drivers who tailgate others are intending to intimidate them to get their way. That says bully to me.

If you should happen to encounter me on the road and decide you want to tailgate me, I will slow down and stare you down from my mirrors until you back off. It is not your road. You do not control how I drive or how fast I go. No, I am not going too slow. I am obeying the LAW that tells all drivers how fast they may go. You are breaking the law by speeding and by tailgating. You are not more important than anyone else on the road…really…you aren’t.

So JUST STOP IT!

One day you will hit someone from the rear. You might be injured and your vehicle might be destroyed. You will certainly cause damage to the vehicle you hit and may cause pain and suffering to the people in the car or cars in front of you. You may lose your life or cause the death of another. For the love of all that is good, just leave a few minutes earlier. Take a deep breath. You will arrive at your destination without creating chaos on the road.

I am going to assume my ranting will not change the driving habits of most people reading this. I only hope that some of you will understand and perhaps think about the way you drive.  The next time you are driving and are tempted to pull up close enough to the car in front of you so you can see the eyes of the driver in their rear view mirror, remember Newton’s Laws and South Carolina law.

From the SC DMV Driver’s Handbook: (A ticket for following too closely is 4 points)

Following Other Cars Rear-end crashes are very common at intersections and they can be avoided. The leading cause for these crashes is following other vehicles too closely. When following another vehicle on any street or highway, use a minimum of three to four second following interval. If any unusual conditions exist, such as rainy weather or increased traffic, add an additional second. To give yourself a three to four second following distance from the vehicle ahead of you, watch as the vehicle passes a stationary object such as a sign, pole or tree. Count the seconds it takes you to reach that the same point (“One-thousand-one, one-thousand-two, one-thousand-three). If you pass the object before you finish counting, you are following too closely. Always drive more slowly and allow more following distance when pavement is wet or icy and when driving in fog.

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