Werner Herzog’s docu film From One Second to the Next weaves together four heart-wrenching stories of people affected by texting drivers

Werner Herzog’s 35-minute documentary leaves you angry, hurt, terrified and thoroughly shaken. If the German director’s aim in highlighting the brutal consequences of texting and driving is to get you thinking, he succeeds totally. Calling it From One Second to the Next, Herzog weaves together four real, heart-wrenching stories of people affected in car accidents caused by texting drivers. A remarkable fact about the film is that it has been sponsored by telcos — AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile and Verizon. It may look like an ad for AT&T, but Herzog insists that the idea is to persuade you to disconnect from the product, not buy it. It is a simple campaign to tell you: “don’t text and drive.”

In a powerful narrative, the short film records the haunting stories of people whose lives have been overhauled by four car accidents. It is raw emotion you see in this gritty and compelling narrative. The viewer gets the message repeatedly: texting and driving is a public safety concern. “Worse than even drinking and driving,” as Herzog would say. Using superb camera work, he demonstrates how the tragedies affect both the victim and the perpetrator. He gives us time to get to know the victims and their families before revealing that texting was the root cause of the tragedy; in the second segment, he shows how the tech-shunning Amish community becomes a victim of a tech-distracted driver. The effect is devastating.

On YouTube, the film has had 1.5 million hits. And according to Associated Press (AP), it will be distributed to some 40,000 high schools, safety organisations and government agencies across the U.S. to raise awareness about the cause. “The consequences are catastrophic, and the statistics are appalling,” says Herzog. “This campaign had to be done. Everything else is of secondary importance.”

Detailing the trauma

The stories — knit together through interviews — detail the physical and emotional trauma of texting-and-driving crashes. The film opens to show a young woman standing alongside a street holding out an empty hand. “I had my brother in my hand, and all of a sudden, my hand was empty,” she says. The narration goes on to unfold the story of Xzavier, a young boy paralysed from chest below after a text-distracted driver ran through a stop sign and struck him as he stood on the side of the road. His mother, Valetta, tells the interviewer, “Any mother can understand. I can’t say, ‘Go play’.” Then there is this young man who hit an Amish buggie, killing its three passengers — two of them young children. He tells you he sent a text message that ironically read, “I love you”, just before he caused the accident. You then meet a woman permanently disabled after being run down by a text-driving teen. Another young driver Reggie side-swiped a car, which then collided into an oncoming truck, killing two passengers. “I foolishly decided that texting and driving was more important to me than these two men were to their families,” he says.

The documentary examines the lives of victims of texting-and-driving accidents and their destroyed dreams. Debbie Drewniak has no memory of getting hit by a teen text-driving at night. What you see is the anger and profound sadness of the care-giver. Xzavier, paralysed from the diaphragm down has minimal screen presence, but leaves an overwhelming impact. That is the theme which is the common thread throughout the moving film.

More heart-breaking is how the film follows the stories of those behind the wheel — and how they grapple with guilt. As Herzog put it, “It touches our hearts very deeply.” Hauntingly, Chandler, the driver who hit the Amish buggy pleads, “Please don’t ever text and drive. It’s life. You get one chance and you live with the choices you make.”

In case you wonder, Werner Herzog doesn’t text. “There’s a completely new culture out there,” Herzog tells AP. “I’m not a participant of texting and driving — or texting at all — but I see there’s some negative progress in civilisation which is coming at us with great vehemence.”

Watch it on YouTube or AT&T’s ItCanWait.com website. It asks visitors to take this pledge: “No text is worth the risk. It can wait.” View infographics, share your story and download handy apps from AT&T and Verizon that help you to stay focused behind the wheel. The next time you get the urge to text while driving, pull over. Send the message and then move on.