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Columns : In My Sights

The Laws of Physics

Driving too fast can get you a quick and painful sentence in Mother Nature's court.

June 01, 2008  |  by Dave Smith - Also by this author

Momentum, gravity, and inertia are not to be denied, and it is the smart crime fighter that figures this out before one of these bad boys gets up and smacks 'em.

All three hit me pretty hard back in '79 when I was assigned to the Navajo Reservation and driving to round up bootleggers and DUIs at a tribal rodeo. I was clipping along as dusk turned into darkness. Now when I say darkness, you haven't seen darkness until you spend a new moon on the Res. The nearest streetlight was more than an hour away.

As I was streaking into the darkness, I got to thinking about a few weeks before when McChesney and I drove through the "magical dead cow." We were driving home in the early morning hours at or near the land speed record for Impalas. Everything was a long way off on the Res and, to get places fast, you had to go fast. We also liked driving fast.

I think that is one of the great truths we have to face: We love to drive to crimes, accidents, and chase evildoers at really exciting speeds. We like to fly low. It usually takes some event or accident to break us of that habit. My learning event was that night when McChesney and I topped a ridge doing three digits and we saw the cow in the middle of our lane.

Being dead and all, she just laid right there in our lane. We were about to get smacked by Inertia and the Big Mo. I mean we had some serious speed x mass = momentum going on. Mac and I let out our manliest screams, and I swerved the car ever so slightly while slamming on the brakes. I don't know exactly what happened then except the cow didn't move and we did…right past her…not hitting a damn thing.

We exited with our legs shaking and walked back to that deceased bovine. On both sides of the roadway, it dropped off at around 60 degrees; we would have been toast. But we had missed her somehow, and we couldn't figure it out. I had some shadow skid about 20 yards before her and it was aimed dead on at that old cow. "Ghost cow" we both kidded as we pushed her off the roadway, not quite sure we weren't right. When we returned the next day the carcass was gone.

Something isn't really training unless it changes the way you do things. Up until that night driving to Chinle that "ghost cow" hadn't taught me a darn thing. I still drove like a maniac for good reasons and with sheer thrill. But one night I got to thinking about that weird non-accident Mac and I experienced, and I took my foot off the accelerator.

A few seconds later, on U.S. 160, I had another physics lesson. I had just topped a rolling bluff and started downhill slowly decelerating when I drove into the herd. That's right, a whole damn herd of cows... I hit the brakes, picked out a cow that looked soft, and hit her square.

A second later my hood exploded and the cow's rear end smashed through my window expelling more BS than an FOP picnic. I rolled to a stop covered with the freshest manure I had ever seen. The Impala was totaled. But there wasn't a scratch on me.

The accident reconstruction boys said my speed was only 59 mph, but the lieutenant wanted to know how I had erased hundreds of feet of skid marks to have hit that cow at less than 100. So, I told him about the "Ghost Cow." He didn't believe me.

Anyway, when you are putting that foot through the floor on your next "I got an excuse to haul butt" call, just remember what happened to me back on the reservation and think before you go too fast; it might be more than just fresh cow manure you have on you when those damn laws of physics catch up with you.

Oh, and wear your seat belt. It's the only defense your puny body has against the law of physics.

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