Motion and Speed

Edited by Jamie (ScienceAid Editor), Taylor (ScienceAid Editor)


Speed or Velocity?

It's very important to understand the difference between these terms, because Physicists are very fussy about the precise definition of words.

  1. 1
    Speed is the rate of movement
    Speed = distance / time
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  2. 2
    'Velocity is not just the rate of movement, but the rate of movement in a certain direction
    Velocity = displacement / time. The diagram below shows displacement. See how it can have positive and negative values.
    diagram showing what displacement is
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Acceleration is when the speed of an object is increasing - similar to when you put your foot on the accelerator to go faster on the motorway. It does not go straight to 130 km/h, but must speed up to reach it. The equation for acceleration is

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equation of acceleration

Speed - Time Graph

a speed time graph

From the start to point A the train is travelling at a constant speed of 10ms-1

Between points A and B it is accelerating because the line goes up, on a distance time graph this would appear as a curve. It accelerates at: a = (v-u)/t a = (30 - 10)/100 a = 0.2ms-2

From B to C it is at a constant speed of 30ms-1

To find the distance you calculate the area under the line using simple laws of geometry. The main difference with a velocity / time graph, is when the line goes down, it may mean the object is decelerating or it is moving in the opposite direction, so it is possible to have a negative velocity.

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Stopping Distance

Stopping distance is the distance a vehicle travels from the point the driver should stop, to when he or she actually becomes stationary. It combines thinking distance and deceleration distance. Here it is represented in a speed/time graph.

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graph showing stopping distance

Factors that can increase stopping distance are:

  1. 1
    A faster vehicle will travel more distance (d = s x t).
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  2. 2
    A heavier vehicle may travel further because it has greater momentum.
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  3. 3
    Road Condition
    If the road is wet, for example, the vehicle will move more because there is less friction to stop it. That is why we should drive slower when it rains, the DSA advises that stopping distance is doubled in the rain and increases by 10 times on icy roads.
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  4. 4
    Reaction Time
    The thinking distance will be lengthened if the driver isn't concentrating or their reaction has been inhibited by alcohol or sleep deprivation for example.
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Referencing this Article

If you need to reference this article in your work, you can copy-paste the following depending on your required format:

APA (American Psychological Association)
Motion and Speed. (2016). In ScienceAid. Retrieved Apr 29, 2017, from

MLA (Modern Language Association) "Motion and Speed." ScienceAid, Accessed 29 Apr 2017.

Chicago / Turabian "Motion and Speed." Accessed Apr 29, 2017.

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Categories : Forces

Recent edits by: Jamie (ScienceAid Editor)

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