Even in a world with increasingly tough and graphic public service announcements on TV about the dangers of such activities as smoking, a recent PSA originating out of Gwent, Wales, breaks new boundaries in the explicit level of its bloody details.
Two teen girls giggle over a text message they are sending while driving along a country road. Distracted, the driver smashes head-on into another car, and while the bloodied girls exchange dazed glances, a third car careens into the passenger side.
The driver finds her friend lying dead next to her. Then the camera switches to another smashed vehicle and shows a young child inside, asking why her parents are not waking up.
Produced by the Gwent Police Department, the PSA sends out a horrible visual to illustrate the dangers of texting while driving. But it currently isn’t being aired on U.S. television. For Americans to even view the ad on YouTube, they must assert they are at least 18.
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Warning from Wales
A South Wales community of 550,000 that many Americans have never even heard of seems an unlikely place for discussion of the dangers of texting-and-driving to be raised, but a visionary Gwent police department was up to the task. Police locked arms with filmmaker Peter Watkins-Hughes to produce the PSA, titled “COW — The Film That Will Stop You Texting and Driving,” named after the character Cassie Cowan, who unleashes the lethal chain of events by texting behind the wheel.
Some 300 drama students from throughout Wales auditioned for the movielike short, with local police cars and air ambulance helicopters used to lend an even more vivid reality to the film. Digital special effects were used to give viewers the “you are there” feeling of being inside Cowan’s vehicle as the road carnage ensues.
Gwent’s Chief Constable Mick Giannasi said it was the department’s intent for the PSA to cut a wider swath than just Wales.
“The messages contained in the film are as relevant to the people of Tennessee as they are to the residents [of Wales],” he said on the department’s Web site. “Texting and driving can have tragic consequences, and the more this film is viewed, the better.”
Appearing on TODAY Tuesday, noted ad executive Donny Deutsch said he believes the ad may be the most powerful ever — and agreed that it needs to be required viewing.
“I will show this to every kid I know, and I salute the police department,” Deutsch told TODAY’s Ann Curry. “I would really implore various local stations: Run this stuff, put this on the air. It will help.”
However, Deutsch told Curry, cold, hard data is nothing compared to showing people the human toll texting while driving can exact, up close and in chilling detail.
“It’s one thing if I just say to you, ‘You know what, Ann, you increase your risk 23 times when texting,’ and you go, ‘OK,’ ” he said. “We hear the numbers, we hear of the fatalities, but you never actually see it this graphic.
“It’s one thing to intellectually get it into our brains, but when you see it this graphically ... I tell you, I couldn’t get through this [ad].”
Yet there remains doubt whether the 4-minute PSA will ever see the light of day on U.S. television screens — even when TODAY ran segments of the Welsh police production, it did not show it in its entirety.
Curry asked Deutsch if the PSA will make it past U.S. censors, and he acknowledged, “They’re going to have a problem with that.” But he was staunch in calling for the spot to make it to U.S. air.
“I say start running this thing all over the country,” Deutsch said. “This is a tremendous problem — all you have to do is drive yourself and look around. You see this, you never will do this again.”
Currently, 17 states and the District of Columbia have laws on the books that ban texting while driving, and it appears the issue is soon to get even more government attention. The U.S. Department of Transportation will hold a summit next month examining all forms of distracted driving, with texting being at the top of the list.
Still, it took years after seat-belt laws were put on the books before the overwhelming majority of Americans began buckling up in earnest. Deutsch told Curry he believes viewers watching the story of a nice teen girl who ultimately kills four people because she texts while she drives could speed up the compliance process exponentially.
“It is a phenomenal piece of tape,” he said. “When you show something this graphic, it stays in people’s heads.”
More than 1 million people have viewed the hard-hitting PSA on YouTube to date.
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