Parker Thompson says he feels safer speeding around a race track at 260-km an hour than driving the streets of Red Deer.
There’s no texting, cell-phone talking, eating, or makeup-applying in races, suggested Red Deer’s world-class racing car driver, who’s been racking up successes in the minor league of Indy car (he was the first Canadian to win the Toronto Grand Prix in USF2000).
Thompson was at Lindsay Thurber Comprehensive High School on Tuesday talking about the dangers of distracted driving. The 18-year-old, who started his Drive to Stay Alive program in 2015 after realizing some friends were getting into preventable accidents, has already spoken at 100 schools across North America.
This week he told 1,600 Red Deer students “you can’t be selfish when you’re on the road,” because drivers are responsible for everyone’s safety — pedestrians, cyclists and other motorists.
“Five seconds is all it takes” to ruin your own life or somebody else’s, Thompson stressed.
He screened an emotional video about Josh Field of London Ont., who was killed in 2009 when his car hit a telephone pole five seconds after he read a text on his cellphone. “That’s how quick it can happen.”
Some students wiped tears as Josh’s mother described in the video cradling her dead son’s head while imploring doctors to “please, please do something” when nothing more could be done.
Pointing out that distracted driving can cause as many — or more accidents — than drunk driving, Thompson asked for ideas on prevent it. Suggestions included putting cell phones in the glove box, the the back seat, in purses or backpacks. All the responders got free T-shirts delivered via T-shirt cannon.
While talking about his racing, Thompson noted the Indy cars he drives are specially equipped to withstand serious crashes, with protective roll bars and five-point harnesses for drivers. By contrast, a video on the impact of a 50-km an hour collision on a street car with a top safety rating showed major front-end damage and a crash-test dummy that was so shaken it lost its neck cladding.
That means a broken neck for a real driver, said Thompson.
Grade 11 student Taylor Fodor thought his message was very effective. Grade 12 student John De Leon liked a video that showed passengers reaching out to hold the driver’s hand to prevent him from reaching for a cell phone. “It’s a funny way to try and protect yourself.”
Principal Dan Lower called Thompson a highly relatable speaker because he’s almost the same age as the students.