Lectures on Physics has been derived from Benjamin Crowell's Light and Matter series of free introductory textbooks on physics. See the editorial for more information....

Don’t hug the center line on a curve!

You're driving on a mountain road with a steep drop on your right. When making a left turn, is it safer to hug the center line or to stay closer to the outside of the road?

You want whichever choice involves the least acceleration, because that will require the least force and entail the least risk of exceeding the maximum force of static friction. Assuming the curve is an arc of a circle and your speed is constant, your car is performing uniform circular motion, with |a| = |v|2/r . The dependence on the square of the speed shows that driving slowly is the main safety measure you can take, but for any given speed you also want to have the largest possible value of r . Even though your instinct is to keep away from that scary precipice, you are actually less likely to skid if you keep toward the outside, because then you are describing a larger circle.

Last Update: 2009-06-21