Teens in Sonoma get a crash course in distracted driving

Some young Bay Area teenage drivers gathered at Sonoma Raceway this afternoon to get a hands-on the steering wheel lesson in distracted driving.

KTVU’s Tom Vacar got to watch and then personally experience what the young drivers were confronted with.

10 North Bay high schoolers went once around the deliberately difficult track undistracted, then, another lap, full of distractions provided by the instructor.

Before the students had their turn at the wheel, they heard from Maria Coyner whose distracted driving forever changed her life.

"I was driving one evening. I looked down at this text message and, unfortunately I veered off the road. I hit and killed a pedestrian in an instant. It's an everyday feeling and an everyday knowledge that I that I wake up to and go to bed every night," said Coyner.
The leading and most perplexing killer of U.S. teens today is the 100-percent preventable car crash.

"My humble opinion: It's a very ‘me’ society, so as people go about their daily business, they lose track of what happens around them," said California Highway Patrol Officer Marc Renspurger.

Sonoma Raceway and its SimRaceway Performance Driving School often hosts young drivers.

"They're starting to learn to drive. They haven't fully embedded these habits like us adults have and this is a great chance to teach them these skills early and hopefully make them stick," said Sonoma Raceway's Diana Brennan.

Napa high school student Shawnee Wallace just finished her laps. Honestly, it's, it's my heart's racing. You're getting all these distractions thrown at you and, honestly, what I take away from it is that you have to ignore everything else that's going on in the car unless it's like life threatening," said Ms. Wallace. 

Sonoma high school student Nathaniel Silva says focus is the key. "It comes into play a lot, like you have to be really disciplined and it's just a matter of character too.”

On my first lap, I hit two of the small cones. The next lap, full of pre-planned eyes off the road distractions: a water bottle falling into the foot well, a quick look cell phone, and a request to turn on the radio produced four hit cones, each cone hit defined as a loss of control or an accident. 

"A 100-percent increase in terms of traffic accidents that could have been avoided if only had only you had maintained your vision on where you were going in controlling your vehicle," said Ken Fukuda, an instructor at the Simraceway Performance Driving School.

Every young driver, perhaps every driver, should have this experience.