Distracted? Impaired? Hands-on driver training shows the dangers

More than 100 young Edmonton drivers got behind the wheel Wednesday to experience what it's like to drive distracted or impaired.

Driving Skills for Life teaches young Edmonton drivers to stay focused and sober on the road

Sean Thomson, 17, tries to text a friend while driving on a closed course in the Driving Skills for Life program. (Sam Martin/CBC)

More than 100 young Edmonton drivers got behind the wheel Wednesday to experience what it's like to drive distracted or impaired.

The high-school students took part n the Ford Driving Skills for Life program, which challenges the drivers with four different exercises — two on distracted and impaired driving and two on advanced handling aspects.

Wednesday marked the first time the program has popped up in Edmonton, a city where distracted and impaired driving issues are well-documented.

Edmonton high school students got behind the wheel Wednesday during the Ford Driving Skills For Life program. 1:06

In December 2016, Edmonton was ranked the seventh-worst city in Canada for impaired driving. At the same time, police Chief Rod Knecht said distracted driving in the city wasn't slowing down, despite all efforts.

Dave Drimmie, manager of the Ford Canada program, said he hopes the program teaches young drivers the dangers of distracted, impaired and inexperienced driving.

"The program is geared to give younger drivers advanced driver techniques … that aren't taught in basic driver training," Drimmie said.

The program uses what Drimmie calls "fatal vision goggles," meant to simulate impaired driving. Drivers wear the goggles while navigating a closed course with pylons and stop signs.

These goggles simulate what it feels like to drive while impaired. (Sam Martin/CBC)

"We actually allow them to drive impaired and drive distracted — not because we want them to think that they can, but because they can't," he said.

'Shows you the dos and don'ts'

Sean Thomson, a 17-year-old student from McNally High School, said the training was useful to him as a young driver.

"It shows really just how dangerous distracted and drunk driving is," Thomson said.

Sean Thomson says the program was a wake-up call on just how dangerous distracted and drunk driving can be. (Sam Martin/CBC)

He said the training could help other young and inexperienced drivers shake a stereotype.

"Kids my age, we're all kind of reckless in a sense, where we're new and we don't have a whole lot of experience," he said. "A course like this, it kind of shows you the dos and don'ts."

Neel Patel, a student from W.P. Wagner High School, doesn't have his Class 5 driver's licence yet. The 16-year-old said the training not only helped him as a driver, but also others around him.

"In the future, it's going to aid me eventually and aid the people who are driving near me," Patel said.

He said driving distracted and with simulated impairment made him realize how dangerous they are.

"It was really scary in a sense, because if people do this in real life, they shouldn't be doing it," he said. "[Driving distracted or impaired] takes up a lot of brain space."

Neel Patel, 16, says the training will help him and other drivers around him. (Sam Martin/CBC)