September 3, 2009

Police road-safety film becomes an internet hit

A hard-hitting film designed to warn youngsters in south Wales about the danger of texting while driving has become an internet hit, attracting more than 6 million viewers around the world.

Clips of Gwent police’s film Cow have been watched by people from South America to India and has helped fuel a national debate in the US. The force said it was surprised the film had reached so many people and that at one point it was the most viewed clip on YouTube.

The film tells the story of a fictional 17-year-old girl, Cassie Cowan (nickname Cow), who is distracted for a few seconds while driving with two friends.

She causes a devastating crash which kills her friends and another couple. The crash is portrayed in vivid and bloody detail.

A full 30-minute version, which stars local drama students, is due to be shown on BBC Wales in the autumn but the writer and director, Peter Watkins-Hughes, put a four-minute clip of it on the internet to show it to a friend. Within weeks the clip had been spotted by internet users, copied on to other sites and began attracting attention around the world.

Gwent police said today it believed the clip had been viewed at least 6 million times and had appeared on at least 17 sites.

The chief constable, Mick Giannasi, said he was surprised but encouraged by the way news of the film had spread via internet users.

“The messages contained in the film are as relevant to the people of Tennessee as they are to the residents of Tredegar,” he said. “Texting and driving can have tragic consequences and the more this film is viewed, the better. Young people think they can text on auto-pilot because they do it so instinctively. For that reason we need to use strong imagery to get them to sit up and take notice.

He added: “We’ve had callers from Canada ringing our force control room to tell us how moved they’ve been by viewing the clip. Another young driver emailed me personally to say he was deeply moved by the film and that it should be shown as part of the theory test for young drivers.”

Fox TV News in the US discussed the value of the shock tactics used in the film and the New York Times has written about it.

Watkins-Hughes said: “Texting while driving is a fairly new behaviour and this film aims to encourage people to modify their behaviour, making it socially unacceptable in the way that drink-driving is a social taboo.

“The film is hitting home because it has a hard edge and it taps into something that lots of people do but know they shouldn’t. If we can get one person to change their behaviour then it will have been worthwhile.”

Gwent police is now working on a learning pack to give to schools so every teenager over 14 can view the film.

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