Back in the days of disco, certain high school students across the land were granted a pause from their studies to watch "Scared Straight!" -- a hard-hitting, profanity-laced documentary narrated by Peter Falk of "Columbo" fame. Filmed at New Jersey's Rahway State Prison, "Scared Straight" amounted to a three-hour sensory assault, as actual prison inmates unloaded on a group of juvenile delinquents in the hope of scaring them away from a life of crime.
Last week, AT&T added a similar gut-wrenching documentary called "From One Second to the Next" to its YouTube channel in support of the telecom company's "It Can Wait" campaign against texting while driving.
Acclaimed director's take on texting
The 35-minute film by Oscar-nominated German director Werner Herzog ("Aguirre, the Wrath of God," "Cave of Forgotten Dreams") features heartbreaking interviews with the families of victims as well as survivors of traffic accidents caused by texting while driving.
Herzog is no stranger to dark content. He similarly interviewed death row inmates for his 2011 documentary "Into the Abyss," and his 2005 documentary "Grizzly Man" explored the life and death of bear enthusiast Timothy Treadwell and his girlfriend, who were both killed and eaten by bears in 2003.
"I knew I could do it because it has to do with catastrophic events invading a family," Herzog told The Associated Press. "In one second, entire lives are either wiped out or changed forever. That kind of emotional resonance is something that I knew I could cover."
Film takes off
"From One Second to the Next" has been an instant hit, drawing more than a million online viewers in its first five days. AT&T plans to send links to the film to more than 40,000 schools across North America in the coming weeks, as well as to safety organizations and government agencies.
Will "From One Second to the Next" scare teens straight? Herzog certainly hopes so.
"There's a completely new culture out there," he says. "I'm not a participant of texting and driving -- or texting at all -- but I see there's something going on in civilization which is coming with great vehemence at us."
The scourge of texting and driving
"Great vehemence" indeed. It's estimated that texting while driving contributes to more than 100,000 accidents and kills more than 3,000 teens each year. That's the equivalent of wiping the entire human population of Proctor, Minn., or Brightwaters, N.Y., or San Saba, Texas, off the map every 12 months.
The entertainment media have already dubbed this summer movie season "The Year of the Flop," based on a bevy of blockbusters that fizzled rather than sizzled on screen and at the box office.
So forget the dreck at the multiplex. If you care about your kids, your fellow drivers and your auto insurance rates, log on and watch the scariest movie of the summer: "From One Second to the Next."
Follow me on Twitter: @omnisaurus
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Jay MacDonald is a Bankrate contributing editor and co-author of "Future Millionaires' Guidebook," an e-book by Bankrate editors and reporters.