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You’ll never text while driving again after watching this documentary

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Werner Herzog has managed to elevate the public-service announcement to the level of high art.

The acclaimed German director recently partnered with AT&T for From One Second to the Next, a stunning 25-minute short film that captures the emotional wreckage of car accidents caused by texting.  

Herzog, of course, is no stranger to dire subject matter. He’s tackled everything from plane crashes to death row inmates with an uncanny intimacy and attention to personal details. It’s that same humanistic streak he sought to capture here.

"In one second, entire lives are either wiped out or changed forever,” Herzog, 70, told Yahoo. “That kind of emotional resonance is something that I knew I could cover."

The facts themselves are devastating. According to the film, more than 100,000 accidents a year involve people who are texting—and that number is sharply rising.  

But it’s the ripple effect that makes the work so powerful. Herzog captures the stories of four families whose lives were permanently altered by texting accidents, from the perspective of the victims, perpetrators, and the responding officers. You can see the pain in their faces, the loss and the regret.

It opens with Xavier, an 8-year-old from Milwaukee, Wis., who was paralyzed from the diaphragm down and now lives on life support. “There are some times when the pain is so bad,” his mother relates in the film, “I can’t breathe.”

It's not easy to watch through the pain, but the film—particularly the segment on Chandler Gerber, who killed a young Amish family of three in Indiana while texting on his way to work—helps put in perspective just how quickly and easily tragic situations can arise in a matter of seconds. Gerber’s text that couldn’t wait? “I love you.”

To help raise awareness on a national level, the film will be distributed at more than 40,000 high schools, but it’s already having a profound effect on YouTube. It’s been viewed more than half a million times in three days.

Pledges to not text while driving are being collected on the sponsoring site, It Can Wait.

Screengrab via YouTube