Even the Pros can't text and drive

With one hand on the wheel and the other scrolling through his cellphone, Parker Thompson barely sees the cyclist on his right before taking the biker out. Next up a series of traffic cones falls under the wheels of his four-door sedan, and he slams on the brakes, but not in time to stop the car from taking out a pair of school children crossing the road.

While this may seem like a terrible but all-too-familiar tale of teenage carelessness behind the wheel, Thompson is no average teenager, and this is no ordinary car. Thompson, a 17-year-old from Red Deer, finished fifth this summer in his rookie year on the USF2000 Indy car racing series. His vehicle (complete with a passenger side emergency brake) was provided by AMA Driver Education to demonstrate the dangers of distracted driving. The pedestrians and cyclist? Plastic cutouts on a closed course.

This may have been a demonstration for the cameras, but the issue of driver distraction at the wheel is all too real. As Thompson whipped through the obstacle course he dodged hazards while sending text messages and engaging in a conversation. Needless to say, he did not complete the course safely.

I feel safer driving at 240 km/h behind the wheel of a race car than I ever would travelling on the streets of Edmonton or Red Deer, where I’m from. You’ve got oncoming traffic, streetlights, stop signs. We all know the dangers behind it so you have to stay focused almost more so on the roads than you do on the racetrack.
Parker Thompson

Having raced since the age of eight, Parker has an abundance of passion for all things driving, but handling a high performance machine through the tight corners of a speedway track has given him a whole other level of awareness about the dangers of being distracted behind the wheel.

And now he's taking the lessons learned on the track back to the classroom, visiting junior high and high school students across Western Canada to caution against trying to do too much. Reaching out to young drivers is a priority for Parker, as he knows that inexperience and distraction can be a deadly combination on the road.

"From racing, I know first hand how fast things can happen behind the wheel. I feel it's my duty to communicate to my fellow peers in Canada how dangerous distractions truly are when driving on our public roads. Global Traffic Group has supported my Drive To Stay Alive campaign, giving me the opportunity to voice my message across Canada."

That's a message that AMA Driver Education's Flaviu Ilovan wants all young drivers to hear loud and clear.

"When you don't focus your whole attention on the act of driving, it's hard to identify hazards up ahead and react quickly enough to avoid a collision. You need to keep your eyes on the road, your hands on the wheel, and your mind focused on what's happening up ahead," says Ilovan, "Teaching new drivers to stay focused is a lot easier than trying to unlearn bad habits behind the wheel."

To reach Parker Thompson or an AMA Driver Education expert, contact the AMA Newsroom at 1-866-960-NEWS or ama.newsroom@ama.ab.ca