One of the important concepts students need to learn is how one subject can be linked or transferred to another subject. What we learn in Math, Science, English, History, Health and the Arts are all interconnected. Driver Education can play an active role and an important link to help students understand this concept. Most students will take Driver Education. Only some students opt to take such subjects as Physics, Languages, High Level Math, or AP classes. A secondary goal of this unit is to have all students realize that they are capable of understanding the basic applications of physics and would consider adding physics to their course study during their Junior/Senior Year. It will also enable the Physics students to review some basic driving concepts.

Most states require a student to take Driver Education before they can receive their license. We know that students are very motivated to work hard in Driver Education and therefore they will work hard to complete all necessary requirements. One of the benefits of having Driver Education during the school day is that this can provide the teacher and the curriculum the opportunity to link other academic subjects together. This link may encourage students to explore those other classes that they may not have thought they were capable of taking.

The following is an example of ways a Driver Education course and a Physics course can interrelate and provide learning experiences to the students in both areas of study at the exact same time. The unit we chose was National Laws and Driving. We looked at the laws of motion as it relates to acceleration, deceleration, stopping time, and reaction time. We also considered the different type of braking and driving systems.



In early November of 2005 high school students from the Physics and Driver Education classes at Peoples Academy in Morrisville Vermont took part in a collaborated assignment to understand how Newton’s laws of motion effects a drivers ability to maintain vehicle control. Students in the Physics class produced, collected and analyzed data on the forces of the kinetics of driving a vehicle. Driver Education students drove the vehicle at different speeds to study rates change in velocity, stopping distance and reaction time. Officers Ryan Burkee and Mike Reeve of the Morrisville Police Department, assisted in securing a safe road environment, data collection, analysis, and group discussion.


Methods / Measurements


A 0.25 mile straight stretch of paved roadway was inspected and a closed off by the police officers. A wheel-tape and chalk were used to mark off ten-foot increments along the roadway.


The vehicles were provided by sales manager, Scott Kirkpatrick of McMahon Chevrolet. Vehicle One was the school’s driver education car, a Chevrolet Malibu, with front wheel drive and anti-lock brakes. Vehicle two, a Chevrolet Cavalier had front wheel drive but no anti-lock brakes. The cars’ masses were not measured, but approximated to be fairly similar. Third optional vehicle was a Dodge Dakota 4 by 4 pickup (rear wheel drive and xxx).

In Car Participants

Students in the driver education course drove the car for all but three of the trials. In the interest of safety and driver confidence the Driver Education teacher drove the trails above 40 mph. Students in the driver education vehicle drove, video taped and collected data on speed and time. The driver education teacher was in the front passenger seat for all of the trials, except for the high speed trials that she drove.

Out of Car Participants

Three groups of students were organized along the roadway with stopwatches, digital cameras and digital video recorders. The first group was organized along the starting line. The second group was spread along the side of the roadway. The final group was gathered near the anticipated distance of full stop to monitor the motion of the car and passengers while rapid deceleration occurred. Communication between the drivers, the teachers, the police officers, the data collectors and the photographers was carried out with walkie-talkies… and some verbal communication.

Stopping Time and Stopping Distance of a Moving Car

Each student driver accelerated from rest to a specified speed (20 or 30 mph) and maintained that speed until they reached a mark on the road surface at which time they initiated an Emergency Braking procedures. Stopping times and distances were recorded along with any potential errors.

The police officers placed chalk marks on the road for full-stop location. The students then measured the distance once the car had driven off. Each trial was completed three times with the student driving all but the three trials at 40-50 mph.

Reaction Time in a Moving Car

While it was the intention of the class to gather data on reaction time, this was not completed due to time constraints. A visual signal (shinning a halogen flashlight from 300 meters) was to indicate the time to start rapid deceleration by the driver. Video would be taken from behind and inside the vehicle for later determination of reaction time with digital video processing equipment.

Acceleration of a car from rest

Two student drivers accelerated to 25 miles per hour as fast as possible for three trials each in both cars. They applied the brakes to indicate to the out of car data collectors that the desired speed had been reached. The brake lights indicated the end of the trial. *The data inside the car for these runs was far more accurate than those outside.



The police officers returned to class to discuss crash scene analysis techniques and the various formulas and equations used to evaluate causes of collisions. Each student also completed a lab report with data analysis and conclusions about the necessary stopping time and distance. The primary goal of the process was for students to gain experience in understanding the minimum space and time needed to make a controlled stop once a hazard is identified. A secondary outcome was for students to make logical connections concerning following distance. The two students in the driver education course also completed a video and photo gallery of the class and explained the equations used by the officers for collision reports.


Future Growth

While the fall of 2005 was the pilot run for this interdisciplinary lesson, both teachers are currently working to improve the experience and are continuing to promote the idea of using science to explain both driving actions and precautions.

Changes under consideration:

1) Increased student control of the experience to encourage the scientific process and ownership of the data (e.g. direct measurements of the skid marks by the students)

2) Using a variety of vehicles would improve the application of the material to the real world as students drive a wide variety of cars.

3) Reserving enough time to complete multiple runs with a variety of cars and drivers.

4) Using the skid-car to:

      *evaluate kinetics of skid at low velocity

      *proper steering techniques

      *use of targeting o reference points and transition pegs

5) Using the impairment vision goggles to relate drowsy drivers or driving under the influence

6) Using frictional coefficients of different road surfaces.

7) The use of kinetics equations and police data from actual crash scenes would make an even stronger connection between the applications of physics and the understanding of why and what causes the loss of vehicle control on our roadways


Barbara E. Brody, M.Ed. and Stewart A. Williamson, M.Ed. Peoples Academy, Morrisville, VT