Newton’s Laws of Motion and the Pedestrians of Woodstock Main Road

Science education in this country is appalling. Clearly, from the lay person’s complete contempt for the fundamental work of Sir Isaac Newton, mechanical physicist extraordinaire. But before I drop any bigger and more incomprehensible words like ‘incomprehensible,’ let’s shut our eyes and take a visual journey down Woodstock Main Road.

You may want to open them again. You know, to read on…

Woodstock Main Road: A Visual Journey Through an Historic Suburb

Woodstock Main Road is a hubbub of activity. Furniture stores (of the used variety), clothing stores (of the hand-me-down variety), shoe shops (of the sweat-shop produced variety) and antique shops (of the I-got-screwed-in-my-grandmother’s-will variety) line both sides of this well-travelled route through one of Cape Town’s most historic suburbs. Woodstock is a fantastic place to live, if, of course, the lock on your gate on your 3-metre high industrial steel electrified fence is working. It has a real vibrancy about it, with its red brick-faced buildings, colourful graffiti, the pervasive smell of KFC, open air fruit and vegetable stands, incessant hooting and blood curdling cries of Caaype Teeeeeaaaawwwn!! If Cape Town was a flesh-and-blood organ, Woodstock Main Road would be a pulsating artery complete with white and black blood cells.

As with any congested roadway in Cape Town, your average code B licensed vehicle driver has quite a challenge on his or her hands. Taxis regularly risk people’s lives getting them to and from work every day, while bus drivers exploit the incredible size of their vehicles and low wage rage to literally intimidate other cars off the road. But it’s not the irresponsible bus drivers that make me want to pull a 12-guage shot gun out from under my car seat. It’s not the taxi drivers that make me wish I could explode their engines with bolts of pure energy from my eyes (okay, maybe a little…)

No. It’s the pedestrians of Woodstock Main Road and their sheer lack of respect for Newton’s Three Laws of Motion that really make me homicidal. Try it. I dare you. Try and drive the length of Woodstock Main Road without having at least three cardiac arrests. People… just… walk. They don’t care. They just walk across the road without looking. There have been at least 27 occasions that I have wanted to slam my foot down (oops officer, sorry, wrong pedal!) and mow down a pedestrian who, in a demonstration of complete faith reminiscent of Indiana Jones walking across that invisible bridge in The Last Crusade, just crosses the road without looking. And they don’t walk… they stroll. They epitomize the meaning of the word ‘perambulate’:

“Let’s take a leisurely perambulation across this busy road, Geraldine.”

“Why yes Ashwell, I think I could do with a leisurely perambulation across this busy road after that rather rich lunch of vis en slap tjips!”

South Africa: A Country Crying Out for Physics Education

As I said, there have been at least 27 occasions on which I’ve wanted to make chunky kibbles out of the special breed of idiot that perambulates across Woodstock Main Road. But then, on the 28th occasion, or 29th (who’s counting?), I came to a blinding realisation… a revelation of neutron star gravity.

Science education in this country sucks. Clearly.

These people know NOTHING of Newton’s Three Laws of Motion. Of course! Why didn’t I see this before? If they had any idea what a 1,000 kg body travelling at 60km/hr was capable of doing to an essentially stationary 80 kg body, they would probably look both ways before illegally strolling across the road. They would actually probably look left and then right AND THEN LEFT AGAIN, if they knew what kind of party those opposing forces would throw right there in the middle of the road. There would be doef-doef music. And red streamers.

So, in order to remedy this situation and to allow minibus taxis to regain the title of “Most Hateful Moving Object on the Road,” I have decided to explain to Cape Town exactly what Newton’s Three Laws of Motion are in a way that you all will most definitely understand.

Newton’s Three Laws of Motion Demystified

The Surprisingly Sexy Sir Isaac Newton

Sir Isaac Newton was a physicist who pioneered the field of mechanical physics. He took the whole idea of motion, of movement, and put words and equations to it. And he did this by coming up with three iron-clad rules: three immutable laws that would forevermore govern motion, not just on this planet, but (insofar as we can tell) in the entire Universe. Wherever you are in the world, or indeed the galaxy, you can be sure that these rules will apply to you. If you don’t believe me, run in front of a bus in Italy. Repeat on Jupiter.

Sucks every time.

Newton’s First Law:

[In fancy speak: Every object continues in its state of rest, or of uniform motion in a straight line, unless compelled to change that state by external forces acted upon it.]

In South African English: If I’m travelling down Woodstock Main road at a constant speed, I will continue to do so unless a taxi T-bones me (see Fig. 1).

Fig. 1: Series of Scientific Diagrams Demonstrating Newton’s First Law of Motion

Newton’s Second Law:

[In fancy speak: The acceleration of a body (a) is directly proportional to the net force (F) acting on it and inversely proportional to the mass (m) of the body. I.e. F = m.a]

In South African English: The force (F) my car would exert upon you, the pedestrian, can be calculated by multiplying the mass of my car by my acceleration. Conversely, the acceleration of your body through the air when I hit you with my car can be calculated by dividing the force my car exerts on you by your mass (see image 2).

In plainer South African English: My car would bliksem you to pieces, broo!

Fig. 2: Series of Scientific Diagrams Demonstrating Newton’s Second Law of Motion

Newton’s Third Law

[In fancy speak: For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.]

In South African English: If I hit you with my car, you will exert a force on my car just as my car would exert a force on you. But, according to Newton’s Second Law of Motion, my car would win (refer to image 2).

Class Dismissed: Your Take-Home Message

These are the three immutable laws of physical motion. Remember them well the next time you think a belligerent stare will be sufficient to slow down my car. Remember that the next time you make me burn rubber or swerve into oncoming traffic to avoid manslaughter charges.

Please people, let’s give the minibus taxi back its rightful title as “Most Hateful Moving Object on the Road” and look both ways next time you leisurely perambulate across a busy road.