Teens learn about dangers of distracted driving at Sonoma Raceway

SONOMA, Calif. (KGO) -- Driving is no easy task, especially when you're just learning. Between smartphones, friends and that hot new song, teenage drivers have more distractions than ever.

ABC7 News went to Sonoma Raceway on Wednesday, where young drivers learned about the dangers of being distracted firsthand.

The grandstands are pretty empty but on the track, there was the unmistakable sound of a 17-year-old driver making a panic stop.

"I thought I did pretty good, but then I hit a couple cones," teen Allison Janet said. For Janet, it's like taking batting practice in a major league ball park.

"To be able to come out here and do driving drills on a professional road course? There's nothing like it," Sonoma Raceway spokesperson Jennifer Imbimbo said.

But they're here to learn a serious lesson. "What we're trying to drive home is that distracted driving can kill," CHP Ofc. Marc Renspurger said.

Take it from Maria Coyner, who was texting. "I unfortunately had veered off the road just slightly and hit a pedestrian. And he died on instant," she said. She shared her story before young drivers got to see for themselves what distraction could do.

Driving this autocross course, instructor Alex Hearndon can be your best friend. But on the second run, he'll be your worst nightmare.

"You don't really think that it's going to affect you, but it does," one teen said.

Confusing directions, loud music, even unexpected weather -- while all the teens did fine on their first run, more than 80 percent made mistakes when they were distracted.

So beginning drivers are distractible, but so are experienced drivers. ABC7 News Reporter Jonathan Bloom tried it for himself and, with three people distracting him, all the tips he learned on his first run went out the window. An unexpected car or pedestrian would have been bad news.

"It's all lethal. It all can potentially lead to consequences," Coyner said.
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