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A PHYSICIST WRITES . . .
Here is a sort-of quiz for the New Year. No prizes are offered, only a few of the answers:
What should legally have been removed from UK roads by the start of this year? Answer: the old black-on-white signs such as No Through Road, Lay-By and Public Conveniences. I just hope they remembered to replace them with new signs.
And what will disappear from Irish roads before the end of January? Answer: speed-limit signs in mph — they will all be converted to km/h. I predict confusion for occasional visitors like ourselves, especially as distances may (I believe) still be indicated in either miles or kilometres.
On my journey to work there is a short stretch of road between two roundabouts which is sometimes occupied by a queue of up to 30 vehicles. Should I feel guilty about turning off at the first roundabout, driving (slowly) through almost empty residential streets, and arriving at the second roundabout to find that the queue has hardly moved and that I even have right of way over it?
If I detect a burning smell while driving, why do I immediately look at the temperature gauge? An overheated engine is unlikely to cause a conflagration under the bonnet — or vice versa! I really ought be patient and allow the vehicle ahead to pull away, before I worry about whether the smell belongs to my own car.
And if I run over an unseen pothole, why do I instinctively drive more gently for a while, as if I had hurt my foot and was walking gingerly while it recovered? An injured suspension system can’t get better, only worse possibly.
What is the most dangerous time of day on the roads? I don’t mean when do most accidents happen, but when is the individual driver most vulnerable? Not, I suggest, in the early hours of the morning (unless you are recklessly sleepy) but at twilight, when your eyes and brain are struggling to identify objects and hazards in two quite different types of weak illumination — diffuse daylight and directional artificial light.
If I listen to any Radio 4 speech programme while driving a familiar route, and then later in the week I happen to hear the repeat at home, how is it that I can often recall the exact point on the journey where I heard each sentence the first time? Can I use this fact to argue that I was concentrating at least as hard on the road as on the programme?
Finally, given that the Toyota Corolla is apparently the most popular car of all time, why is it that the sun-visor on my ‘97 model is designed so that I have to duck my head dangerously when swinging it (the visor) across to the side window?
Correction: “was designed” — I have just taken a hacksaw to the offending end, and wish I had thought of doing so years ago.
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