Author(s): Michael S. Pritchard, Department of Philosophy, Western Michigan University & Theodore Goldfarb, Department of Chemistry, State University of New York at Stony Brook
NOTE: This contribution appeared as a featured resource in the online and printed issues of ENC Focus: A Magazine for Classroom Innovators Vol. 8 no.3, published by the Eisenhower National Clearinghouse for Mathematics and Science Education-ENC.
Albert R: Palazzo, East Meadow High School, East Meadow, Long Island, NY
This lesson begins with a discussion of the law of inertia (a body at rest remains at rest and a body in uniform motion continues moving uniformly unless acted on by a net force). Next, the law of inertia is applied to a specific context, the use of seat belts and airbags in automobiles. It is well known that automobile accidents often cause serious injuries or deaths as a result of the momentum of cars crashing into other objects. Devices such as seat belts and airbags can help by restraining or cushioning forward motion and lessening impact forces during collisions or other sudden vehicle decelerations. In addition, head restraints can prevent injuries such as whiplash due to rear end collisions. After discussing these ideas, students are invited to comment on the following scenario
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Students are likely to have a number of different views on these matters. Although the law of inertia is a settled matter, the question of whether or not to wear seat belts is not. Here we have to make choices. The question is, on what basis should such choices be made? Physics can help us understand possible consequences of the choices we make. It cannot by itself settle the questions of responsibility the use of automobiles raises--questions about the responsibilities designers and manufacturers have in producing reasonably safe automobiles for consumer use, the responsibilities governments have to establish and enforce safety standards to protect consumers, responsibilities consumers have to protect themselves, and responsibilities we have to urge those with whom we travel to buckle up.
An understanding of basic principles of physics can help all of the above parties wrestle with their responsibilities. Does this give physics teacher's special responsibilities to help others understand the likely consequences of choosing not to use seat belts and air bags?
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