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Don't be a stupid bastid, drive safely

Paul Dumfries sat next to me in fourth-year French. A fairly conventional fellow, he surprised me only once by fixing me with a stare magnified by his powerful convex glasses and saying, in his slightly- English accent, "All crows - and other birds - are bastids." He paused for effect, then added: "Because their parents never get married."

I could think of no response. It was clear he wasn't trying to be funny, so I returned to my jotter and conjugated a verb or two. More typical of Paul's conversational openers was when he asked me about the motorbike I had bought. "Have you taken it to bits yet?"

"No," I answered, briefly because still more verbs demanded their conjugal rights.

"If it was mine, I'd have stripped it down by now," he continued.

"Well, that shows how much you know about engines," I said. "You'd burst the seals on the gaskets and it would lose compression."

I have sometimes wondered whether I would have felt peer pressure to go home and start removing bits from my bike, had I not been able to counter Paul with a demonstration of my superior factual knowledge of all things two-stroke. Perhaps it's a guy thing. If so, physics teaching can help to make the world a safer place.

As a result of the work I've been doing with Road Safety Scotland (all being well, you can read about Trolley Pimping in next week's TES Magazine), I've become interested in driver psychology.

Might young men drive more safely if they could justify the way they conducted themselves through a display of a deep understanding of the dynamic behaviour of their car? If this sounds a bit far-fetched, examine your own reaction to the recent advert which claimed that a child hit by a car at 40 mph was twice as likely to die as one hit at 30. What did you think? "That cannae be right, 40 isn't that much more than 30?"

Physics tells us that the movement energy of a car goes up not with speed but with speed squared - 30 x 30 = 900, 40 x 40 = 1,600, nearly twice as much. This is a shallow analysis, but it's enough to stop me, for one, being a stupid bastid in built-up areas.

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