You might have heard of Werner Herzog. He’s one of the titans of cinema. He’s directed over fifty movies, from fictional fare such as Aguirre, the Wrath of God (1972) to documentaries such as Grizzly Man (2005). And, with his sibilant German accent, he even played the bad-guy in that Jack Reacher film starring Tom Cruise.
But, even so, you may not have heard of one of his most recent films: From One Second to the Next. It was made last year, but not really for cinemas and film festivals. It was what they call a public service advert, and one that has been put up on YouTube and distributed to schools. Its subject? The dangers of texting whilst driving.
This film makes those dangers heartbreakingly clear. In its half-hour running time, it describes four real-life crashes and interviews some of the people caught up in them. There’s the young boy who has been paralysed from the diaphragm down. There’s the daughter who lost her father. There’s the terrible detail of a dog thrown down the road.
But it’s the interviews with the drivers that really stick with you, if only because it’s something you rarely see. These aren’t, in the usual sense, the victims of road crashes. They were the perpetrators; the people who were texting at the wheel. You can see how that simple, stupid act has since hollowed them out. ‘This was the last text message I sent,’ explains one, ‘before I caused an accident that killed three people.’ Another cries beside the freeway where he once mis-steered into oncoming traffic.
The reason I mention this is because it’s Road Safety Week this week. This is the annual initiative organised by the Brake charity that aims to raise awareness of road safety. Its theme, this year, is ‘Look out for each other’. As they describe it: ‘we’re asking everyone to look out for each other on roads, because being selfish can easily lead to tragedy.’
Of course, any good driving instructor will teach that lesson to their pupils. But, as the Herzog film demonstrates, these lessons can be forgotten. Complacency can set in, and things that drivers wouldn’t dream of doing in a test situation – such as sending a text message – can become a part of their daily lives. That’s why initiatives such as Road Safety Week are so important. The lessons should be taught and retaught all the time.
Happily, there are plenty of ways that you can help out – beyond your everyday work, that is. Road Safety Week is all about participation. Whether it’s putting up posters or arranging a workshop at a local school, there are plenty of ideas in the official e-action pack. And if you feel it’s too late to do something now, there’s always the next Road Safety Week. Or there are other ways you can support Brake all year round.
But helping out can also mean as little as watching or forwarding on a video. From One Second to the Nextcontains one of the most important messages any motorist will ever see on screen. It comes from that man who killed three:
‘Focus while you’re driving. Pay attention while you’re driving. Don’t take your eyes off the road while you're driving. Things can happen so quick that will change your life forever.’