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Racing cars not as scary as driving distracted

Alberta teen speaks to Ponoka high school students on distracted driving.

Getting a message from a peer usually strikes a big cord, especially with teenagers.

Combine the message about distracted driving with someone they think has a cool career plus a great presentation and you get lots of buy-in of that message.

Parker Thompson just graduated from high school last June and races cars at over 200 miles per hour for a living, so he’s already got that cool factor covered with his fellow teenagers. So, the fact he is bringing to light the dangers and consequences of distracted driving makes his presentation even more poignant.

Thompson, 18, was at Ponoka Secondary Campus (PSC) on Nov. 24 to speak to students from Grade 10 to 12 about Drive to Stay Alive —a campaign to make distracted driving, plus texting and driving, a thing of the past by educating youths about how it can affect everyone.

“When I was 16, a couple friends were involved in a terrible accident caused by distracted driving,” he told the crowded gym at PSC.

“Hundreds of people die or are injured by distracted driving incidents each year in Alberta and it’s the leading cause of deaths on our roads. If you think you can multi-task, it will catch up with you.”

Thompson just finished his second season driving in the USF2000 circuit, the first step on the ladder to the open wheel Indycar series where fellow Canadian James Hinchcliffe drives.

One statement he made in his presentation really got a reaction from the students, including a number of wows and gasps.

“I feel much safer in my race car going 200 kilometers an hour on a track than I do in daily driving on Alberta roads,” he said.

“The survival in a crash at 50 kilometres an hour is low and any distraction raises that chance. Five seconds can change your life.”

To further illustrate, Thompson talked about a 90 mph crash during a race three years ago that left him in hospital unconscious for three days and showed a video about how answering a text while driving led to the death of one Ontario teenager, Josh Field, and what effect that had on his family and friends.

“It’s amazing how fast it can take to change the lives of many people,” Thompson added following that video.

“Don’t be selfish. Realize the responsibility you have.”

To put it all in perspective, Thompson explained 20 to 30 per cent of collisions are due to distracted drivers, who are also three times more likely to be involved in a crash.

Distracted driving is normally associated with texting or using a cell phone, but can also include reading, applying makeup and eating, all of which can lead to a ticket with a $287 fine and three demerits or a charge of careless driving that comes with a $402 fine and six demerits. Worst of all though, Thompson pointed out, is the risk of a collision and the potential you could die or cause the death of someone else.

“Why would you spend years working on what you want to do, only to throw it away in five seconds?”

For more information about Thompson’s campaign, you are encouraged to check out Drive to Stay Alive on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram or visit his website at www.parkerthompsonracing.com.