• Activity
  • Roads, Vehicles & Traffic

Friction and stopping distances

Learning areas:
  • Health & Physical Education
Year levels:
  • Year 5
  • Year 6

In small groups, have students design and conduct an experiment that investigates the principles of friction and its relationship to stopping within a required distance or time.

Students could use toy cars, balls or blocks as the basic equipment and conduct experiments using a range of surfaces to determine how friction influences stopping distances – such as a dry concrete surface compared with when it is wet.

The take-out message for students is that they need to understand that sometimes vehicles/bicycles take a long time to stop.

Discussion questions

  • What is friction?
  • Under what conditions was the most friction   found?
  • Under what conditions was the least friction   found?
  • What is the relationship between friction and   stopping distance?
  • How do wet surfaces change the amount of   friction?
  • What modifications could be made to increase   friction?
  • How does the concept of friction apply to ‘on   road’ situations for a driver, pedestrian or cyclist?
  • What are the implications for safer travel? How can this information help keep you safer when crossing a road?

Information for teachers

Friction is the force generated between two surfaces when they rub or move over each other. Controlling any vehicle manoeuvre such as braking, accelerating and cornering relies on frictional force between tyres and road surface. On most dry surfaces friction is high, no matter what the road surface. However, when the road is wet or icy, there is less of the two surfaces in contact with each other and, especially if the vehicle is travelling at high speed, there is less opportunity for the surfaces to be in contact with each other.

Victorian curriculum


Level 5 & 6

With guidance, pose questions to clarify practical problems or inform a scientific investigation, and predict what the findings of an investigation might be based on previous experiences or general rules (VCSIS082)

With guidance, plan appropriate investigation types to answer questions or solve problems and use equipment, technologies and materials safely, identifying potential risks (VCSIS083)

Decide which variables should be changed, measured and controlled in fair tests and accurately observe, measure and record data (VCSIS084)

Construct and use a range of representations, including tables and graphs, to record, represent and describe observations, patterns or relationships in data (VCSIS085)

Compare data with predictions and use as evidence in developing explanations (VCSIS086)

Suggest improvements to the methods used to investigate a question or solve a problem (VCSIS087)

Communicate ideas and processes using evidence to develop explanations of events and phenomena and to identify simple cause-and-effect relationships (VCSIS088)