Other voices: Film targets texting while driving

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Acclaimed filmmaker Werner Herzog has directed a powerful documentary about the dangers of texting and driving for Dallas-based AT&T, which has posted the 35-minute film online and plans to send copies to high schools nationwide this coming school year. Herzog’s film is part of AT&T’s worthy “It Can Wait” campaign to educate drivers, particularly young drivers, about the dangers of texting while driving.

We suggest AT&T forward a copy of Herzog’s film to the Governor’s Mansion.

Two years ago, Gov. Rick Perry vetoed a broadly supported, bipartisan bill banning texting while driving, dismissing the legislation as “a government effort to micromanage the behavior of adults.” His threat of a repeat veto contributed to a similar bill’s failure this year in the state Senate, leaving Texas as one of only nine states without a comprehensive ban on texting while driving.

Yes, reckless behavior will continue whatever laws are on the books. But all laws attempt to manage, even micromanage, the way we act and interact. The simple existence of a law, like the state’s seat belt law or laws against drunken driving, along with the promise of enforcement, can deter dangerous behavior.

We offer our movie-forwarding suggestion to AT&T with tongue slightly in cheek, but we find nothing amusing about Perry’s stubborn stand against a state ban on texting while driving. As Herzog’s From One Second to the Next makes clear, the consequences of texting while driving are tragic. The film’s opening words haunt with heartbreak and lost promise: “I had my brother in my hand, and all of a sudden, my hand was empty.”

The film documents four accidents involving drivers who were texting. Lives were ended or changed forever. The film is available on itcanwait.com or YouTube.

It might not seem so at first, but AT&T chose perfectly when it hired the 70-year-old German director for the documentary. Obsession and delusions about control are themes in Herzog’s memorable films and documentaries.

“There’s a completely new culture out there,” Herzog recently told The Associated Press. “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 U.S. Department of Transportation sponsors an anti-texting-while-driving effort similar to AT&T’s. The department sponsors a website, www.distraction.gov, designed to raise awareness about the dangers of texting and other driving distractions. It includes about two dozen short videos that tell the stories of victims of distracted driving.

Texting dramatically increases the risk of an accident, to everyone alike. According to the federal government, 3,331 people were killed and 387,000 were injured in crashes involving a distracted driver in 2011.

States and cities began passing laws against texting while driving a half-dozen years ago. Austin banned texting while driving in 2010, leading the way for the two dozen Texas cities that have since passed their own bans. Even the state recognizes texting’s dangers with partial prohibitions: Texas bans texting for drivers younger than 18 and for all drivers in school-crossing zones.

The Texas Legislature next convenes in 2015. A new governor will be in office. Perhaps then Texas will be able to join the vast majority of states that realize attempting to save lives is the right thing to do, whether it’s micromanaging behavior or not.

Austin American-Statesman


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