Mr. Physics

Illustration Bob AulThe next time you decide to cut off someone driving a classic car, please consider this physics problem: I'm driving my '63 Chevy Nova, which weighs about 2,500 pounds and has stock drum brakes in front and rear (drum brakes are not nearly as efficient and effective at stopping a car as newer power disc brakes). Let's say I'm traveling at roughly 65 mph, and you cut me off with no turn signal and no warning whatsoever, and then you have to brake suddenly for whatever reason—say, the idiot in front of you brakes suddenly—causing me to slam on mybrakes. How far do you think my car is going to travel before coming to a complete stop? Answer: I don't know for sure, but I figure yourrear end will stop it! Now, in a minor accident, say on a city street traveling only 35 mph to 40 mph, my car will most likely come out ahead, since it's made of steel and has no crumple zones and yours is probably made of aluminum, plastic and fiberglass and crumples like a piece of soft bread at the slightest tap. But in a major accident, at freeway speeds, those crumple zones are (hopefully) going to save yourlife. I, however, will probably have my very heavy iron engine on my lap; my head will almost certainly hit my steel dashboard—that's after it goes through my rather inflexible steering wheel (since my car was made long before shoulder straps became available, I have only lap belts). Do you really want to have my death on your conscience? Just because you simply had to be in my lane that instant? Or you were on the phone? Or you just didn't bother to look over your shoulder before changing lanes? Of course, if my friend who drives a '48 Ford truck—which weighs nearly twice as much as my car does and also has drum brakes—or any of the other classic-car drivers I know with much bigger, heavier cars than mine, happen to be the one you cut off, you just might be the dead one.

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