O Opinions & Commentary

The Next Step Episode 17

Episode 17: Distracted Driving

TheDrivingZone2_DVD_T_optThis month I want to step away from the track and spend some time discussing a topic of great importance – road and teen driver safety, in particular the work of my esteemed colleague Mr. Andy Pilgrim.

Andy Pilgrim (back row, blue shirt) is a guy with one impressive resume. He is one of the winningest pro drivers in North America (see below) and is also founder (1989) and owner of Electronic Computer Services, Inc., an IT consulting company with over 100 employees. How one man can juggle two full-time careers as demanding as motorsports and business ownership at the same time is beyond belief!

But it doesn’t stop there.

On top of his many commitments on and off the track, Andy has spent the past 18 years on a crusade to improve teen driver safety. Automobile accidents are the number one cause of teenage deaths in North America and leave over 500,000 teens seriously injured each year. Working towards improving these grim statistics is Andy’s way of giving back to the world of driving where he has enjoyed so much success.

Originally Andy started out by volunteering his time traveling to high schools across North America speaking to students and parents one community at a time. Time after time he was approached by parents who said they would love to have a video of his presentation to take home with them so as to better remember and reinforce his teachings. In 2004, Pilgrim, determined to reach a larger audience, made the commitment to producing just such a video. Financing for the project came largely out of his own pocket. Andy also asked his friend Dale Earnhardt Jr. if he would lend his very well-known face and name to the video project and he happily agreed. He also received some additional marketing support from Teresa Earnhardt and the Dale Earnhardt foundation.

The story of Pilgrim and Dale Earnhardt Sr. is a great story of its own. In short, the late Dale Sr. became a fan of Andy’s after watching his daring, aggressive, last-lap pass to win Petit Le Mans in 2000.

Dale Sr. sent Andy a letter which read: “Wow, that was some pass you made on that Viper. That pass is exactly why I want you to be my teammate for the 24 hours of Daytona. You obviously know how to rub paint so I can’t teach you how to rub paint. So now you’ve gotta teach me how to drive that Corvette.” The pair went on to finish second in the 2001 24 Hours of Daytona. Sadly, a few weeks later Earnhardt died in the Daytona 500.

Ferraris Photo courtesy of Aaron Povoledo

In 2004, Pilgrim released his first video, The Driving Zone. By 2009, Pilgrim was already working on a new and improved version, and this past spring The Driving Zone 2 was released.

While this video is aimed at new drivers (classified as anyone with less than five years of driving experience) all of the key lessons are applicable and relevant to everyone – regardless of age or driving experience.

In my own instructing career I have spent thousands and thousands of hours teaching defensive driver training and skid control for everyone from corporate executives to police officers, teen drivers, elderly people, security guards and taxi cab drivers. (Come to think of it, I’ve done more defensive driver training, and chased more orange cones than I ever care to remember!)
I know firsthand about the ability of your average citizen behind the wheel, and I can assure you that the world would be a safer place if everyone with a license were to watch and apply the lessons taught in Andy’s video.

Targeting teens is the perfect place to start. As drivers, we are bound to the habits we form in our early years of driving. Working to instill the correct habits at an early age is by far the best preventative medicine

What I personally like most about Andy’s video is the focus is placed on driving awareness. You can teach a person car control to the point of becoming the next Ken Block, but none of that will matter if that driver is texting, doing their make up or reading the paper when the proverbial deer jumps out in front of them.


The video focuses on what distracted driving is and explains that anytime your eyes and mind are not on the road you might as well be blindfolded. Andy summarizes this by saying: “Distracted driving does not just mean texting. Anything you do as a driver behind the wheel that is not helping you drive is a distraction. Fatigue, drugs - prescription or not, eating, changing a CD, turning around to deal with children in the car, getting caught up enjoying music, arguing with a friend etc.”

He goes on to explain how research shows that “75% of new drivers drive with the same driving distractions they leaned from their parents during all those years of sitting in the car with them.”

Effectively influencing teen driver habits starts with getting this message to parents.

“Going forward, I think we have to engage parents much earlier in the driver education process,” he said.

In an effort to do just that, he has released three Public Service Announcement Videos focusing on explain how a parent’s habits behind the have a direct influence on a child’s habits. These videos can be viewed on his website www.thedrivingzone2.com

Momentum and support for Andy’s work is growing. The state of Illinois is using the DVD in all of their 730 public high schools. Ten or more other states have handed the DVD out at their driver education teacher conferences.

In 2008, the Andy Pilgrim Foundation was founded in order to make it easier for people to make donations. All of the money raised goes towards producing and distributing the videos. To date the foundation has given away more than 3,000 copies to schools.

In closing, just let me say this: If you drive a car and care about improving road safety, lessening the burden on the health care system or just want to contribute to your community at large, go to www.thedrivingzone2.com and order a video. Watch it yourself, give it to a kid, give it to a neighbour with kids, buy it for your local high school, buy it for any high school. For $15 you might just save someone’s life, and with Christmas on the way, it would make a great stocking stuffer!

Andy Pilgrim, The Racer

Current: Factory Cadillac Driver, Pirelli World Challenge

61 Race Wins in 10 Pro series

5 Professional Championships:
2005 SCCA SPEED World Challenge GT
1998 IMSA Speedvision Cup Grand Sports
1997 IMSA Exxon GT1
1996 Brazilian GT2
1995 IMSA Speedvision Cup Grand Sports

Major Accomplishments:
3 wins - Rolex 24 At Daytona - 1997, 2002, 2004
2 wins - Petit Le Mans - 2000-01
1 win - 12 Hours of Sebring -1996
5 top 3 finishes - 24 Hours of Le Mans -1997, 2000-03
4 wins - 12-hour and 24-hour Street Stock races at Mosport, Watkins Glen and Sebring

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