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Snow, Ice, and Car Turns



In a previous blog post I wrote about how the lower coefficient of friction due to ice causes a decrease in rotational motion and an increase in skidding when someone is driving.  I want to extend on that topic only because a few weeks ago, when the snow was really bad, I first hand experienced the horror of making a turn without a strong centripetal force present.  It was rather snowy and icy, and my friend was driving.  However, as they went to make the turn, they turned too sharply, and we skid all over the road.  Luckily, we gained control of the car and neither of us were injured; either way, it was a terrifying experience.  Why did we skid?  Well, part of it does have to do with the reduced coefficient of friction in ice because, in a turn, friction acts as the centripetal force that keeps the object moving in a circle.  However, another notable point would be the width of the radius of the turn.  When my friend went to make the turn, they cut the corner kind of tightly, resulting in a much tighter centripetal radius.  Because centripetal force is equal to mv^2/r, a decrease in the length of the radius means that the centripetal force to keep an object moving in that circular direction must increase.  Coupled with the reduced force of friction caused by the slippery ice, it is no wonder that the car strayed from the circular path which it was taken around the bend!


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