It’s an anxious moment for any parent. You’re dropping the kids off at the pool, the mall or a birthday party. And the responsibility of keeping those kids safe is immense. That’s why you’re more wary of every other vehicle on the road, every junction, and even your braking distance at every stop light – a lot more than you perhaps would be if you were in the car on your own. And then, the phone rings.
A video has emerged that depicts an everyday scene that many parents will recognize. It begins with a dad driving his daughter and her friends to the local suburban pool. Meanwhile, Mom is at home looking anxious. We watch as she calls out, “Muffin!” and notices the yard gate is open.
Back in the car, dad’s phone rings. He’s mindful that he has kids in the vehicle with him, though, and so he chooses not to pick up. In fact, he turns up the radio to avoid further distractions and pulls up safely at the swimming pool. Then, with the kids dropped off, he sets off back home.
Next, Mom calls back again and dad sensibly pulls up to the roadside to answer the phone. His wife tells him the bad news: the family dog has escaped from the yard. Muffin is nowhere to be seen. And because Mom doesn’t have time to look for him, dad heads home.
But while he’s en route, the phone rings again. And with safety in mind once more, he wisely decides to cancel the call. Instead, he keeps his focus on what’s going on around him. He sees a neighbor collecting his mail and waves. Then the film takes a surreal twist.
“Was that Janie’s mom?” we hear a young boy ask. He has appeared out of nowhere on the back seat of the car. And, not surprisingly, the dad is seriously taken aback. Panicked, he asks the kid, “Who are you?” He was sure he was making this part of the journey alone.
“I’m Justin. I live up the road. Do you mind dropping me off?” the boy asks. Dad says, “Sure, but… You know Janie?” As it transpires, the two kids are actually friends at school. Janie’s dad doesn’t seem to recognize the boy, though – but he strikes up a conversation nonetheless.
In the rearview, he spots a soccer ball in Justin’s hands. “I used to love soccer when I was your age,” he tell him. Justin says soccer is fun and reveals that the striker is the position he’d most like to play, while the dad jokes that the ladies love strikers. And that’s when things take a turn for the supernatural.
From the backseat, little Justin asks who Muffin is. And then he asks the driver if he’s 40. The dad says yes and tells him that Muffin is the family dog. The boy, meanwhile, looks curiously at him, and then the phone rings once again. This time, however, the boy asks pointedly, “Do you want to answer that?”
Dad, still very aware of road safety, says, “No, never with a kid in the car.” But eerily, Justin replies, “That’s okay. I’m not here.” And sure enough, Dad looks back in the rearview and turns around to see nothing but an empty seat behind him. Justin has gone just as suddenly and bizarrely as he arrived.
The phone rings again. This time, though – certain, now, that there are no youngsters in the car – dad lets his guard down and picks up the device. But at this point Justin returns once more. We hear his voice say “I’m there” as the boy runs into the road after his soccer ball. Then there’s a deadly screech of tires as the young child is caught in the car’s path. And the devastating consequences which follow are left to the viewer’s imagination.
This deeply affecting video is a PSA from AT&T called “The Unseen.” And the message the company want to send out is this: “You are never alone on the road. Distracted driving is never okay. Take the pledge and never drive distracted.” It’s hoped that the video will highlight the horrific dangers of taking your mind off the road, even for a second.
The campaign has actually been running for more than half a decade. This particular video follows on from last year’s “Close to Home” PSA, in which a mother, momentarily distracted by her phone, causes a devastating collision that changes people’s lives forever.
And, undoubtedly, this latest production also makes a pretty powerful statement about an aspect of road safety that is often overlooked. Sandra Howard, Assistant VP of Advertising at AT&T, explained, “We found that when someone is in the vehicle with others, they feel a responsibility for those who are there with them and demonstrate very good behavior because of the people in their care.”
Howard continued, “But those same people will actually have no issue driving distracted when they are alone. When you’re alone, you almost feel like you’re in a bubble and you don’t think you’re putting anyone in danger.” As if, perhaps, a driver’s duty for safety goes only so far as the people inside the vehicle.
The video was a collaborative effort between AT&T and advertising agency BBDO. And Matt MacDonald from the agency explained the premise behind the production, saying, “We talked about how this behavior has become insidious – we all understand that it’s a dangerous and terrible thing to do, but humans are really good at tricking themselves that they can do it. The fact that they self-justify is what we wanted to tackle head on.”
As with “Close to Home,” this latest production was directed by Frederic Planchon, who is renowned for his emotive filmmaking. And while the videos may be difficult to watch, that’s really the point: the stark impact they have is meant to resonate. Plus, the video centers on a deliberately sympathetic and very human central character – and one whom many audiences will find it easy to relate to.
The film follows on from a 35-minute docu-film that is the work of another talented and much-respected director, Werner Herzog. This longer piece features a series of interviews with people who have been affected by those who text while driving. It includes stories from both the victims’ families and from those who have themselves been distracted while driving and have caused a fatal accident as a consequence.
In one interview, the heartbreaking documentary tells the tale of a promising young athlete who was robbed of his mobility by a speeding car. There’s also the story of man who killed three Amish children when his car hit their carriage. And notably, all drivers in the film were texting while they were driving.
So far, the results of the campaign have been hugely promising: according to data provided by AT&T, 30 per cent of people who have seen the videos have changed their habits behind the wheel. Plus, just over 10 million people have put their name to the “It Can Wait” pledge, vowing to leave their phones alone while driving. So while it may be a harrowing campaign, then, it sure seems to be working.