Academy award winning film-maker Eva Orner has directed the centrepiece of Victoria’s latest road safety campaign, targeting young adults who use their mobile phone while driving.
The 22-minute documentary, It’s People Like Us, follows five young drivers who allowed Orner to place cameras in their cars for 10 days, recording every moment they looked down to check or send a text, took a call, or, in one case, sent a series of selfies on Snapchat.
The footage is intercut with interviews of the young adults describing their phone use. None seemed aware of how frequently they used their phone while driving.
“One thing I draw the line at is using it while I’m moving, because that’s pretty dangerous,” says one young woman, who is later shown checking messages and taking selfies while driving, including at night.
A young man, who is shown looking down at his phone for long moments while driving, says: “I don’t think to any extent that I use my phone I don’t think I’m being dangerous ... I know it’s not safe but I still think I’m not going to have a crash.”
Another woman, whose dashcam footage frequently included her baby strapped into a carseat in the back seat, says: “I would never text while driving.” But later she follows up by saying: “I don’t have the time to stop and pick up a call, I don’t have time to stop and send a text message, so it’s just so much easier.”
Footage from her car shows her frequently texting or on calls while the car is moving, even with her child in the back.
The Transport Accident Commission campaign is a change of pace for Orner, who won the 2008 Acadamy award for best documentary for Taxi to the Dark Side, a film she produced with director Alex Gibney about the use of torture by US soldiers and operatives in Afghanistan.
Chasing Asylum, her 2016 film on Australia’s treatment of asylum seekers on Manus Island, was critically acclaimed and headlined the Human Rights and Arts Film Festival in 2016.
She told Fairfax Media it was nice to take a break from riskier projects to complete a smaller film in her hometown of Melbourne.
“Funding is always hard, no matter how many silly awards you have,” she said. “It’s never money for jam.
“There was something very nice about a film that was all done in 10 weeks, that was back in my hometown, that didn’t involve gunfire, war, breaking laws, potentially going to jail, relying on whistleblowers.”
Orner told the ABC the in-car footage was “pretty shocking”.
“I think it’s so much worse than we thought,” she said. “And you don’t realise how bad it is until you see it. I just think [using mobile phones] is such a part of our life we don’t even know we’re doing it half the time, and that’s part of the problem.”
One of the young women in the documentary, who said her friends frequently “freak out” at her over her mobile phone use while driving, said it would probably take an accident for her to get out of the habit.
“My friends freak out, they always say ‘get off your phone’ but I’m like, ‘Did you die? You didn’t die, it’s OK’,” she says in an interview at the start of the documentary.
After being shown the footage from inside her car, alongside the four other participants, she says: “I have to admit I would look dangerous on the road. It would take an accident or losing my licence on the spot pretty much to get off my phone.”
A police officer conducting a traffic operation targeting people using their mobile phones says the habit had become so ingrained that it would take an individual tragedy for those who have become used to using their phone 24/7 to put it down and watch the road.
“We actually did have a member who busted someone on the Monash Freeway watching porn while they were driving along,” he said. “And I mean, there’s an appropriate time for porn and it’s not while you’re driving along the Monash Freeway, let’s be honest.”