Texting Kills: Watch Werner Herzog’s Haunting PSA To Be Played In Schools (FULL VIDEO)

Respected filmmaker Werner Herzog felt the topic of texting while driving was urgent enough to lend his estimable skills to the message that 'it can wait. Image @ Associate Press/YahooNews

Respected filmmaker Werner Herzog felt the topic of texting while driving was urgent enough to lend his estimable skills to the message that ‘it can wait. Image @YahooNews

It’s not every day you see a Public Service Announcement directed by someone with the resume and creative gravitas of German-born filmmaker, Werner Herzog. And while a typical PSA is a brief “The More You Know…” spin on some issue, a music video with gathered celebs singing songs like “We Are The World,” even an arty black and white montage of high-profile artists “demanding a plan” against gun violence, Herzog’s piece qualifies as a documentary short, shot and produced with the same quality and artistry you’d expect to see in a theater. But it’s not about some ethereal, existential, festival-ready topic, but rather one as earthbound and every day as you can imagine: texting while driving.

The haunting 35-minute piece, “From One Second To The Next,” follows four distinct stories, two from the perspective of drivers who, while texting, caused horrific accidents that resulted in multiple deaths; two from the perspective of families whose loved ones were grievously injured by texting drivers. Each story is profoundly heartbreaking without being maudlin, offering the down-dirty, bare-bones reality of what can happen in that split-second a driver takes to glance down at a cellphone while texting.

The 70-year-old filmmaker is best known for dramatic survival stories like Rescue Dawncompelling documentaries like Grizzly Maneven controversial pieces like the TV documentary series, On Death Row. What, then, would compel him to get involved with what is, essentially, a longer-than-average public service announcement produced by a commercial giant like AT & T? From the Associated Press:

“I knew I could do it because it has to do with catastrophic events invading a family… In one second, entire lives are either wiped out or changed forever. That kind of emotional resonance is something that I knew I could cover.” [… ]

“It always depends on the project itself,” said the German-born filmmaker. “What AT&T proposed immediately clicked and connected inside of me. There’s a completely new culture out there. I’m not a participant of texting and driving — or texting at all — but I see there’s something going on in civilization which is coming with great vehemence at us.”

The film expands on the 30-second commercials that the director of such critically acclaimed films as “Aguirre: The Wrath of God” created for the “It Can Wait” campaign, an initiative launched by AT&T to raise awareness about the topic. Herzog, who has spoken out about the intrusion of marketing in creative mediums, doesn’t mind the sponsorship.

“It’s very easy to reconcile that,” said Herzog. “This has nothing to do with consumerism or being part of advertising products. This whole campaign is rather dissuading you from excessive use of a product. It’s a campaign. We’re not trying to sell anything to you. We’re not trying to sell a mobile phone to you. We’re trying to raise awareness.”

And awareness needs to be raised. The statistics of deaths and accidents related to phone use are staggering… and growing. A site called Because Texting and Driving Kills estimates that in 2011, approximately 1.3 million crashes were due to texting or phone use; clearly that number is growing as more and more people acquire ‘smart phones’ capable of doing ‘smarter’ things… not necessarily wiser ones. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reports that texting is “six times more dangerous than driving while intoxicated“… and certainly driving while drunk is bad enough.

But what really needs to be done to shake up the “it wouldn’t happen to me, I’m good at texting” mentality of too many, particularly younger, drivers? I’d suggest they watch this short film; listen to what the two drivers who killed people have to say. They both thought they were good at texting and driving, too.

That task is exactly what AT & T plans to implement. Herzog confirmed that the company is planning to set up screenings at “over 40,000 high schools and hundreds of safety organizations and government agencies.” Hopefully, as people watch, they will be moved as Valetta talks about her 8-year-0ld son, Xzavier, struck by a texting woman and now in a wheelchair and dependent on a ventilator; as Chandler Gerber, a young husband and father talks about the Amish family of three he killed while texting; as the brother and sister of Debbie Drewniak, a once vibrant woman, talk about her tragic disabilities after being hit by a texting teen, and as Reggie Shaw weeps for the lives he ended while texting a message he can’t even remember. These four stories are haunting and deeply heartbreaking on all sides of the narrative. Hopefully, they will touch viewers in a way that will shake up their conviction that they’re “good at texting and driving” and cause them, as Chandler Gerber urges, to put down their phones when they’re in their cars.

Werner Herzog echoes that message:

“In one second, entire lives are either wiped out or changed forever.”

Here is the full video. It’s 35 minutes long. Please watch the whole piece; with the computer shut, the TV off and, especially, the phone down. It surely deserves our full and complete attention.