When Parker Thompson gets behind the wheel the speeds are higher, but the stakes are the same.
The 17-year-old race car driver from Red Deer, Alta. stopped in at Penticton Secondary School on Oct. 2 to speak with students about distracted driving, a factor in 34 per cent of all crashes involving people ages 16 to 20 between 2009 and 2013.
Thompson got behind the wheel of a go-kart at eight years old and now races in USF2000, an Indy Car training ground and the first step on the Mazda Road to Indy racing series. Thompson told students he feels safer pushing two-litre engines up to 240 km/h than he does driving on any Canadian highway.
Thompson is on a 60-school tour across Canada to tell students who are just getting their licenses about the dangers of distracted driving.
“I wanted to give back. I saw the emerging problem of distracted driving, how many lives it was taking and it was a no-brainer because when we’re in the race car we know first hand what five seconds of distraction can do,” Thompson said. “It’s life or death and it’s the same thing on the roads.
Being the same age as many of the students he is speaking to, he doesn’t lecture, but converses with them.
“It’s me talking peer-to-peer and I think that really connects with the students very well and it really hits home,” Thompson said. “I’ve been in a few crashes myself on the racetrack and I know what crashes are like. I would hate for any student to go through what I’ve gone through.”
It goes beyond texting or playing on your phone Thompson said.
“What you have to understand about distracted driving is that it’s not just texting and driving as a lot of people think, it’s anything that distracts you when you’re behind the wheel,” Thompson said.
Conversing with your passenger, applying make up and eating were a few examples of non-phone related distractions.
Being distracted behind the wheel is an issue Grade 10 Pen High student Winston Nguyen thinks isn’t being taken seriously enough.
“Most kids think they know everything. They think they’re gods, they’re cocky,” Nguyen said.
During Thompson’s presentation students viewed the short film Distracted Driving Josh’s Storycreated by London Health Sciences Centre’s Trauma Program and the Children’s Health Foundation, exploring the tragedy of a young man killed in a motor vehicle collision involving distracted driving and the effect on his family and friends.
Nguyen hopes this story hit home with his fellow students.
“I think it was a really good idea to get the Josh Field story because I know a lot of people can connect to it in a personal way. My friend, they also died because of this,” Nguyen said.