Teen Filmmaker Focuses on Distracted Driving

 Here’s a guest commentary by Owen Smith, who is the president of AT&T Vermont.

When Burlington High School student Maia Vota traveled to the Tribeca Film Festival last week, she brought an important message to New York City’s red carpet: It Can Wait.

Maia’s documentary-style short film about the dangers of distracted driving earned her a 2019 AT&T Youth Filmmaker Award, and as part of her prize she attended Tribeca where she got behind-the-scenes access to Tribeca filmmakers while working with AT&T and nonprofit Fresh Films to develop her filmmaking skills. But more important than the glitz and glamour is the message that Maia and her film are helping to spread.

Called “A Realistic Look at Distracted Driving,” the film is a four and a half minute look at students’ attitudes and habits related to using devices behind the wheel. The film is powerful because it is realistic and universal – she could have filmed at any high school from Montpelier to Montana and odds are, she would have heard similar anecdotes. Many students admit that they are frequently tempted to use their phones while driving.

Maia depicts a microcosm of the widespread and ever-evolving problem of distracted driving.

In 2009, when AT&T began its longstanding It Can Wait program, the focus was on raising awareness of texting and driving. Over the past 10 years, the It Can Wait program has worked with local community and public safety leaders to host school assemblies and public events, utilizing resources such as virtual reality and inspiring more 36 million pledges – and counting – to not drive distracted. But also, over the past 10 years, the It Can Wait program has expanded from a focus on just texting and driving to include our constantly changing world of technology.

This year, AT&T conducted new research to show how the issue has progressed. The research showed that seven in 10 drivers say their smartphones have become essential for getting around. And use of immersive content, such as video chatting and watching videos, while behind the wheel has nearly doubled since 2015.

One of the students in Maia’s film talks about device distractions other than texting, like posting on social media and searching for music. The anecdote emphasizes how the distracted driving problem continues to evolve. In fact, the recent research showed 86% of car-share drivers use their smartphones while driving; and four in 10 e-scooter or e-bike riders admit to riding distracted. It doesn’t matter how we get around; we’re doing it distracted.

April was National Distracted Driving Awareness month and there is no better time to pledge to never drive distracted. Vermont’s public safety community has been a valuable and outspoken leader in this fight. Earlier in April, AT&T was proud to stand in Shelburne with the Vermont State Police, sheriff’s departments and several local law enforcement agencies to drive home this message.

We encourage you to remind friends and loved ones to put their phones down while they’re behind the wheel. Visit www.itcanwait.com to take the pledge to never drive distracted. Or head over to YouTube and check out and share Maia’s award-winning film.

A Burlington High School student used her voice as a filmmaker to spread an important message, and we should all follow her lead. That message is simple: no text, photo, email or social media post is worth a life.

And as Maia concludes in her film, “we should be doing better than this.”