Cow – better known by its full title, Only Stwpd Cowz Txt N Drive – is a British Public Service Announcement released in 2008 aimed at stressing the dangers of distracted driving, specifically texting while driving.
Only Stwpd Cowz … – similar in format to the American Afterschool Special – tells the fictional story of Cassie "Cow" Cowan, 17, who causes a deadly accident on a highway near Tredegar, South Wales, the result of her attempting to compose a text message on her cell phone while driving. Four people, including two passengers in her vehicle, are killed in the collision. The movie was shown in many British, and eventually American, high schools to counter the growing trend of drivers who text while behind the wheel. Special effects were used to create a realistically horrific crash scene, which takes up four minutes of the film.
The main plot begins with Cow and her two best friends – Emma "Emm" Williams and Jules O'Shea – as they agree to leave work early in order to cheer up Jules, who reveals she was pregnant and had been dumped by her boyfriend (the baby's father). While driving south of Tredegar, Cassie attempts to text a cute boy, and all the girls are clearly focused on the content of the message and trying to woo the boy, giggling at the thought of how he'll respond.
And then all the fun comes to a sudden, screeching, deadly halt.
Cow's attention focused on typing a response, the car drifts over the center line of the highway and into the path of an oncoming Ford Mondeo. Cow sees it ... TOO LATE, CRASH!!!! In an instant, Cow's Ford Ka slams into the Mondeo, and the group are flailed around like ragdolls, heads repeatedly slamming into each other and causing horrifying injuries. Just when the dust appears to have settled, a third car, a Ford Fiesta, is unable to stop in time and crashes into the scene, causing yet more carnage.
Jules and Emma, both 17, are killed in the collision, along with the two parents of a baby and his older sister in the Mondeo, while the lone driver of the Fiesta is seriously injured. Cow is paralyzed in the crash – at one point, she nearly dies but is resuscitated – but will eventually recover. Much of the rest of the film deals with the consequences of Cow's actions – the grief-hardened parents of Cow's friends planning their funerals, the revelation that Cow was breathalyzed just minutes before the accident (although Cow was sober) and the entire Tredegar community ostracizing the Cowans for their daughter's part in the tragedy.
The movie became an unexpected YouTube hit and was the centerpiece of a feature story on the Today show in the United States, and won acclaim in Advertising Age's weekly Creativity Top 5 video. However, a few critics contended that the film was too graphic – the blood and realistic effects, and the young girl asking why "mommy and daddy won't wake up."
The movie was produced by the Gwent, Wales, Police Department, and made with the help of filmmaker Peter Watkins-Hughes.
Only Stwpd Cowz Txt N Drive provides examples of:
- An Aesop: Unstated, but very clear: Don't text while driving.
- Animal Motifs: Guess what Cassie's animal motif is.
- Blatant Lies: Jules' ex-boyfriend, when interviewed for his thoughts on the accident, tells the press about how he was looking forward to life as a father, when the entire reason the three girls were in the car to begin with was because he had dumped Jules like a sack of potatoes when he'd found out she was pregnant.
- Artistic License – Cars: The Ford Ka is a much smaller car than the Ford Mondeo. It's far more likely that the Mondeo would be the safer car of the two in the accident and that those in the Ka are more likely to be killed due it's smaller size crashing into a larger heavier vehicle such as the Mondeo, who's occupants wouldn't be completely unharmed from the collision, but it's very very unlikely that they would be killed.
- Dark Secret: Jules' father was unaware that his daughter was pregnant until after the coroner asked him to identify the body.
- Foreshadowing: During her nightmare when Cassie's car was being filled with water, Cassie's face showed some bruises.
- Get Out!: Mr. Williams (Emma's father) kicking Cow's parents out of his house when they try to offer their condolences. Williams, who is in a grief- and alcohol-fueled state of rage when he sees the Cowans, says he does not want their sympathy before he insults them and tells them to never come near their family again or he'll kill them.
- Halfway Plot Switch: Because of the car crash, the second act focuses on Cassie being operated on, while Emma's and Jules' parents learn of the deaths of their daughters.
- Idiot Ball: In the final scene, where Cow is getting ready for her court briefing, it finally sinks in. Standing in front of the mirror, she says, "You stupid Cow. You stupid, murdering Cow! You killed them!" This, as she finally realizes and understands that only idiots text while driving, and the consequences could very definitely be deadly.
- It Always Rains at Funerals: At Emma's, the umbrellas are out.
- It's All My Fault: See Idiot Ball.
- Jerkass: That price is easily taken by Morgan (see Kick the Dog, below), with runnerups being the woman who curses Cow in the clinic, the store manager who refuses service to Cow's mom, and even Mr. Williams (who's the only one who has a valid excuse, being grief-stricken).
- Kick the Dog: In the segments prior to the finale, several:
- The media makes every attempt to sensationalize the crash. First, a news report — featuring Jules' ex-boyfriend, Morgan, telling how he was looking forward to spending his life with her and their baby note — airs. Later, Mr. Cowan's boss shows him a large-font front-page news headline stating that Cow had been breathalyzed shortly before the accident.
- As Morgan's interview is airing, a middle-aged woman visits Cow's room, viciously calling her "a horrid, murdering bitch" before telling her she should have been the one to die.
- The Cowans' home is heavily vandalized, with the words "Murdering Cow" spray-painted on the garage door.
- Mrs. Cowan is refused service at the supermarket where one of victims had worked.
- Kill the Cutie: Both Emma and Jules are extremely beautiful young ladies ... which only adds to the emotional pathos of the film's story.
- Oh, Crap!:
Officer: Are you Mr. Williams?
- Emma survives the initial collision as she and Cow exchange looks. Emma turns around ... and barely has time to register this look as the third car involved in the accident crashes into the passenger-side door, the impact of which kills her. note
- Mr. Williams, when he is approached by the police:
Mr. Williams: Yeah?
Officer: Father of Emma Williams?
Mr. Williams: (Beat) Yes.
- Outliving One's Offspring: The Williams and O'Shea parents lose their daughters in the crash.
- Please Wake Up: During the crash scene, a little girl – a passenger in one of the cars involved in the accident, where both of her parents were killed – asks one of the first witnesses on the scene "Why won't Mommy and Daddy wake up?"
- Public Service Announcement: The point of the movie – to warn of the dangers of texting while driving. The movie was produced at a time when criminalizing cellular and Smart phone use – in all its forms, including making calls and texting – while driving was being debated.
- Ripped from the Headlines: Coming from the rising awareness of the dangers of texting and driving; in both the United States and the United Kingdom, there had already been several well-publicized deadly accidents prior to this film being made.
- Scare 'Em Straight: The four-minute crash scene – particularly, the 30 seconds where the crash sequence happened, where the passengers in Cow's vehicle were shown suffering violent whiplash – is particularly graphic and stunningly realistic.
- Soundtrack Dissonance: A typical pop song can be heard playing on the radio during the crash.
- Teen Pregnancy: A lot of drama is milked from Jules just finding out she was pregnant.
- Title Drop: Cow says the film's longer title to herself when she finally realizes the consequences of her actions.
- Truth in Television: And yet, drivers send text messages every day while driving – and (sad to say) not just in the United Kingdom or the United States.
- Vomit Discretion Shot: The morning of the accident, while the girls are working at the hardware store, they are asked to clean up a customer's vomit. Jules gets sick at the sight of the mess and is held up while she ducks out of the line of camera sight to puke.
- "Where Are They Now?" Epilogue: Cow was eventually sentenced to seven years in prison for what's called "death by dangerous driving" (the British equivalent of the United States' vehicular homicide). Also, the parents unsuccessfully tried to sue Cow and her family for damages.
- Xtreme Kool Letterz: Although ironically so – via text abbreviations, the title expresses Cow's extreme regrets in her actions that caused the accident.