Average vs. Instantaneous Speed

During a typical trip to school, your car will undergo a series of changes in its speed. If you were to inspect the speedometer readings at regular intervals, you would notice that it changes often. The speedometer of a car reveals information about the instantaneous speed of your car. It shows your speed at a particular instant in time.

The instantaneous speed of an object is not to be confused with the average speed. Average speed is a measure of the distance traveled in a given period of time; it is sometimes referred to as the distance per time ratio. Suppose that during your trip to school, you traveled a distance of 5 miles and the trip lasted 0.2 hours (12 minutes). The average speed of your car could be determined as

On the average, your car was moving with a speed of 25 miles per hour. During your trip, there may have been times that you were stopped and other times that your speedometer was reading 50 miles per hour. Yet, on average, you were moving with a speed of 25 miles per hour.

For more information on physical descriptions of motion, visit The Physics Classroom Tutorial. Specific information is available there on the following topic:

Instantaneous vs. Average Speed