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For many people, the dangers of texting while driving are blatantly obvious, and yet lots of people still do it all over the world. An extremely graphic new video shows just how lethal it can be. We'll hear that public service announcement in a moment. It was made in Britain, and thanks to YouTube, it's gone viral. NPR's Elizabeth Blair reports.

ELIZABETH BLAIR: Three young friends are in a car, laughing, the radio's playing, traveling down a two-lane highway.

(Soundbite of public service announcement)

Unidentified Woman #1: Hi, James. My mate Jules fancies you.

Unidentified Woman #2: Please don't.

Unidentified Woman #3: Whoo.

BLAIR: The driver is texting. She takes her eyes off the road to look for her friend's address.

Unidentified Woman #1: Let me just get his number.

(Soundbite of music)

(Soundbite of horn honking)

(Soundbite of screaming)

(Soundbite of crash)

BLAIR: Three cars are involved in this terrifying depiction. We don't find out how many are killed in the crash, but its gruesome nature leaves enough for the imagination.

Unidentified Child: Mommy, daddy, wake up.

BLAIR: The video was made by filmmaker Peter Watkins-Hughes in collaboration with a local police force and a high school in Wales. It'll be shown in schools throughout the U.K. this fall. Watkins-Hughes posted the video on YouTube so that a BBC producer friend in London could see it. Within weeks, it went viral.

Mr. PETER WATKINS-HUGHES (Filmmaker): I think the film strikes a chord around the globe because it is a new global problem.

BLAIR: Recent studies show texting while driving is on the rise, and that it increases the risk of crashing more than talking on a cell phone while driving. In the U.S., texting while driving is illegal in just 14 states.

Mr. WATKINS-HUGHES: You know, we've got young people and people using mobile phones who are dying needlessly.

BLAIR: There have been some visceral reactions to the video PSA online. One wrote: It scared the bleep out of me. Another said: It should be aired on every TV station in the world multiple times.

Twenty-five-year-old Marc Hughes of Collegeville, Pennsylvania, admits that he texts while he drives. But he says he was pretty shocked by the video.

Mr. MARC HUGHES: I thought the video was pretty graphic. It definitely causes you to take a step back, causes you to take a pause. And that's something that really could happen.

BLAIR: So, will he stop texting while driving?

Mr. HUGHES: I can't say that's going to stop me from texting, honestly.

BLAIR: And for Rob Foss, that's the problem.

Dr. ROB FOSS (Director, Center for the Study of Young Drivers): I watched about the first couple of minutes of it, and I've seen this sort of stuff so many times I didn't watch the rest of it.

BLAIR: Foss is director of the Center for the Study of Young Drivers at the University of North Carolina. He says scare tactics don't change something as complex as human behavior, even when people declare that it will.

Dr. FOSS: When you talk to the public, and especially when you talk to teenagers they say, oh, yes, that would make me behave differently. Well, people don't know what would make them behave differently.

BLAIR: Philip Povero is more hopeful. He's the sheriff of Ontario County in New York State, where in 2007, five young women were killed in a head-on collision. The driver's cell phone was sending and receiving text messages within a minute of the crash. Povero believes PSAs like this one should be part of a larger effort to get people to stop texting while driving.

Sheriff PHILIP POVERO (Ontario County, New York): Each little piece, each PSA, each presentation by a law enforcement personnel, they're all spokes in this wheel of prevention. Hopefully, we'll get the message out and we'll see substantial reductions in this type of behavior by drivers.

BLAIR: Even skeptic Rob Foss believes some good may come of the texting-while-driving PSA. It might get the attention of lawmakers.

Elizabeth Blair, NPR News.

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