Road Worrier: Werner Herzog's unflinching film examines aftermath of texting while driving

Debbie Drewniack (left) with her sister Elizabeth in "From One Second to the Next" by Werner Herzog, a 35-minute online documentary.
Debbie Drewniack (left) with her sister Elizabeth in "From One Second to the Next" by Werner Herzog, a 35-minute online documentary. From One Second to the Next

You might not think you want to watch Werner Herzog’s new film. But you cannot turn away after the opening line from a teenage girl on a Milwaukee street:

“I had my brother in my hand, and all of a sudden my hand was empty.”

“From One Second to the Next” is a 35-minute documentary the German filmmaker produced for AT&T’s “It Can Wait” campaign about the lethal hazards of texting while driving.

Herzog examines four crashes where people were killed or disabled by texting drivers. Police, drivers and victims and their parents, siblings and children give detailed testimony that is understated but unflinching.

It’s a great improvement over the crude driver’s-ed films from earlier decades, where grim troopers stacked beer bottles on the bloody fenders of wrecked cars. It will doubtless find similar use in schools across the country – with, you can only hope, better results.

You may have seen the Milwaukee girl’s brother, Xzavier, and their mother in a riveting TV spot for the It Can Wait campaign. The boy is “paralyzed from the diaphragm down,” his mother says. The driver who struck him ran a stop sign while texting, “I’m on my way.”

In Indiana, we meet a haunted young man who killed children when he rear-ended an Amish family’s buggy. After the crash, he says, “the only thing I saw moving was the horse.”

He reads a generous letter from the victims’ father, who goes beyond forgiveness to reassure him: “Keep looking up. God is always there.”

Forgiveness, bitterness

There is forgiveness, also, from a young Utah woman who embraces the man responsible for her father’s death.

Not so for the brother and sister of Debbie, a Vermont woman. She lost mental and physical vigor after she was struck one night while walking her chocolate Labrador, Charlie. Dying on the roadside, Charlie wagged his tail as Debbie was loaded into the ambulance.

The teen driver was sentenced to 30 days of community service, and Debbie received a $50,000 insurance payment toward medical costs that exceeded $1 million. Her sister cannot contain her bitterness.

Debbie, with a vacant gaze, reveals no emotions of her own. But she puts an arm around her tearful sister and pats her shoulder and says in a flat whisper, “There there. It’s all right.”

You can download or watch “From One Second to the Next” at the safety campaign website, where young drivers are invited to “take the pledge to never text and drive.”

‘Put my phone away’

The mesmerizing powers of mobile phones are well known by now. North Carolina is one of 41 states where texting (including reading email) is banned for all drivers. Herzog’s film should make you look at your phone, the next time you’re driving, with revulsion.

“Put my phone away, and I save those two men’s lives,” says Reggie, the Utah driver. “When I speak to others, I share the same message. I say, ‘Now it’s that easy for you, going forward, to save somebody’s life. You put the phone away when you drive, and you’re safer behind the wheel, and everybody’s safer on the road around you.’

“I want everybody to look at me and look and what I did and what I caused and say, ‘I don’t want to be that guy.’”

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