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Physics Excursion to Willowbank

On Friday 8 August, our Physics class went on an excursion to the Willowbank Safe Driver Training (SDT) centre. While there, we undertook an extensive course on the importance of safe driving and some of the physics behind driving. The day began with a classroom session that highlighted the dangers of driving while tired or under the influence of alcohol or drugs. We also discovered the importance of not driving with distractions – especially mobile phones. Each point was backed up with an activity. Having to match shapes of different colours while counting backwards from 100 displayed just how much slower a distracted brain worked.

Our next activity was a practical one – an experiment to test the braking distance of a car at different speeds. A Toyota Corolla hatchback was taken to speeds of 40, 50, 60, 80 and 100 km/h and then the driver braked hard to engage the ABS. The results showed that as the speed of the car doubled, the braking distance quadrupled – a testament to the importance of sticking to speed limits. We also tested the effect of locking the brakes and the lack of control it resulted in, as well as the technique of threshold braking which, when done properly, could outperform ABS.

Our next classroom session looked at inertia and its applications to seatbelts, airbag deployment and load securement. It’s safe to say that after that session, no one will even think of driving without a seatbelt. We also had the opportunity to make use of the driving centre’s simulator, which allowed us to experience what it is like to drive under the influence of alcohol. No-one made it more than 20 metres without spinning out! The final two activities of the day were the car maintenance demonstration – familiarising ourselves with some of the different fluids in the car as well as when to change them, and also looking at the tyres and when they should be replaced.

Finally, we were passengers in cars for the g-force experiment in which we measured the g-forces the car was subject to under hard braking, acceleration and cornering. This activity was no doubt the highlight of the day. Overall, the excursion to the SDT centre encouraged us to reconsider what we call safe driving and gave us the physics behind why safety systems exist and should be used.
Daniel Roy, Year 11

The day was a combination of theory and practical work. This included learning about acceleration and g-forces, the effects of drugs on a driver’s body, and the relationships between mass, velocity and stopping distance. More interactive activities gave us the opportunity to experience being in a car without seatbelts (while doing donuts and stopping), walking ‘under the influence’ with special goggles, using radar guns and driving in a simulated car in various conditions. The day reinforced the importance of road safety through practical demonstrations.
Alistair Cameron, Year 11

While it was a Physics excursion, we learnt many important life skills. The session started with a talk on safe driving. We learnt about impaired driving, and the risks it can cause to the driver and passengers. The instructor gave us an impairment demonstration, where we put on goggles that simulate different blood alcoholic levels. We then had to try to walk along a line while under the simulated influence of alcohol. Of course, this wasn’t as easy as expected. We also saw a demonstration on breaking distances of certain cars going at certain speeds and learnt about the physics of inertia. Overall. the excursion proved to be exciting and informative, and taught us many life skills.
Caelan Forsingdal, Year 11

One of the surprising things I learned was near the end of the day. We were in the car traveling at 4km/h, with no seat belts on; the driver then slammed on the breaks. This ended up with one of my friends nearly hitting the back of the head rest. Of course, there were a few laughs, but it was an eye-opening experience. Imagine what would have happened traveling at 100km/h, or even 40km/h. This experience at Willowbank has opened my eyes to the dangers of the road and I am sure I will not forget.
Aidan Segers, Year 11

Various members of the class, including me, operated the driving simulator at the centre. While using the simulator, the road conditions were varied, showing us the dangers and challenges associated with driving on wet or snowy roads. Additionally, our own reaction times were impeded, simulating the impact of driving under the influence of alcohol and drugs. Our trip to Willowbank Raceway was an engaging and exciting excursion.
Oliver Lindsay, Year 11

My favourite part of the day was when we went in the cars with the drivers. Three of us got in the car and recorded the g-forces acting on us when the car suddenly stopped, accelerated and spun. At one point, our driver made us take off our seatbelts before driving very slowly and then slamming on the brakes. This clearly demonstrated that even when travelling at 5 km/h, without a seatbelt on, there is nothing to stop you from continually moving forward at a that velocity. Overall, the day was one of the best excursions I’ve been on in the past couple of years and wish I could go again.
Katie Munro, Year 11

Overall, as Year 11 students and current learner drivers, the excursion to Willowbank Raceway was especially educational and worthwhile as we learnt valuable and relevant Physics principles which are transferrable to our everyday lives, making us safer drivers.
Izzy Tame, Year 11