previous / next column
A PHYSICIST WRITES . . .
Questions on my mind ... the first one follows on more or less from my survey of driving habits last month: is it an easy task (for the brain) or a difficult one, to get accustomed to a different car? I don’t renew my car very often — in fact as infrequently as possible — but I do recall that it takes me at least a week or two to feel completely comfortable in the new driving seat.
It’s the small changes that cause me trouble: the fore/aft tilt of the seat (and what a difference a small lumbar pad too can make to back comfort!), the exact point at which the clutch bites, the ‘steering ratio’ of the wheel, the position and the sensitivity of the horn press, and which way round the lighting and washer stalks are (isn’t it absurd that this last matter has not been agreed on by the manufacturers — or perhaps it has by now, and I am behind the times).
Curiously, I can remember something of the different feel of almost every one of the eight cars I have owned over the last 40 years. This suggests that each one became firmly embedded in whatever part of the brain it is that deals with these things. But I doubt if I could climb back into one of my old cars and instantly adapt to it again.
Even so, you can switch between quite different vehicles without difficulty when you are accustomed to each of them. I have no trouble jumping out of my manual Corolla and straight into Mrs S’s automatic Micra (though I admit I kept well away from the driving-seat of the left-hand-drive Beetle she owned in our early years). The people I admire are garage mechanics and suchlike, who seem able to control all models with ease — but is this simply because of past experience of them all, or have these people developed another skill, some sort of universal driving technique?
Here’s a different question, arising from seeing part of the motor-cycle Grand Prix from Shanghai last weekend, which took place under aquaplaning conditions: why did the racers have no lights on? In the spray they must have been mostly invisible to each other, just as they were to us. Would they not have been at least a little safer with some illumination? After watching them swim gingerly round each bend in the track, I cannot believe that the extra load on the engine from a headlight would have made any difference to their top speed.
Lastly a question that all members ought perhaps to be considering (though there are few easy answers to it): how can I proclaim the benefits of advanced driving to non-members? To say: “I’m an advanced driver,” is rather boastful, while “You should try an advanced-driving course,” might sound like a criticism — and almost no-one, I guess, will happily accept that about their driving from friends or relations!
It occurred to me a couple of years ago to start leaving the Advanced Driver magazine lying on view at work, and it has certainly been looked at. But I don’t know of anyone there who actually swallowed the bait and applied to the IAM, and very few I think were aware that I provided the magazine. Until, that is, last month when I retired. In fact it’s mainly because I saw the chance of the publicity this would offer, that I set up the website www.petersoul.co.uk to hold the previous columns I have written.
So as I departed from Gillette and ended a working-lifetime of applying physics, I sent out an email to colleagues saying: if you visit my website you will see that I shall be continuing to think about physics in retirement — as it is all around you and not just for the laboratory. And then from home I was able to send much the same message to scores of contacts (on the genuine pretext of asking them to delete my Gillette email address if it was in their list).
Perhaps I was lucky in finding such an opportunity to generate ‘neutral’ and (I hope) interesting publicity about advanced driving, though only time will tell whether any applications result from it. But I would be surprised if quite a few members couldn’t do something similar, or different, to achieve the same effect. And the more drivers we can encourage to advance (by one means or another), the less bad driving there will be on the road ahead for us to have to avoid!
previous / next column