It’s been exactly a year since the day 18-year-old Merritt Levitan was killed while biking cross-country. She was on a national tour slated to last six weeks. Her group was pedaling through rural Arkansas when they were hit by a car driven by a 21-year-old driver, who was distracted by her cell phone. Merritt died from brain injuries sustained in the accident, and most of the others in the group were seriously injured.
Image: Irina Slutsky
What can be done to teach our kids to stop texting and driving? In this era of instant communication, engagement in social media has become a game that everyone is playing, every minute of the day. To withdraw from participating in this game would mean to be cut off from the rest of the world and, ultimately, experience a sense of isolation that was non-existent just a decade ago. Studies have proven that extensive cell phone use can negatively impact academic performance, mental health and subjective well-being or happiness, yet words on paper aren’t enough to overtake the joy of sharing the highs and lows in life instantaneously.
How can we force our children to disconnect from a habit that is widespread yet potentially deadly? Texting and driving is now the leading cause of death among teen drivers. The issue is pressing considering that drivers are 23 percent more likely to crash while driving and texting.
To prevent future tragedies and curb this perilous activity, apps have been developed to lock out texting, going as far as to use GPS to detect how many miles per hour the cell phone user is traveling and disabling texting until the user slows down her pace.
Anti-texting and driving campaigns have sprouted up across the country. Last year, AT&T received an award for its It Can Wait program, while other grassroots movements led by family and friends who have witnessed first-hand the devastation of texting and driving have taken off.
Emmie Atwood is still mourning the loss of her friend Merritt. Atwood, along with three other young ladies, have memorialized their friend by jump-starting a movement that has spread from coast to coast.
The TextLess Live Morecampaign began as a movement at Merritt’s school, Milton Academy, offering blue bracelets to encourage monthly text-free days at the school. It has since spread to nearly 50 schools across the country from coast to coast. On designated TextLess days, students turn off their phones for the full day, encouraging them to flirt with the experience of being unplugged, which Atwood hopes, will become a habit while driving.
“I love texting. I do it all the time. I always need to be reminded to put my phone away,” Atwood admitted. “I know how hard it is to turn the phone off. Whenever I do, I always feel like I’m missing out on plans with friends. But I think we should recognize and accept that there is a certain relief in turning it off. As long as we allow ourselves to get comfortable with the silence shutting it down brings.”
The silence is deafening for Anna Cheshire Levitan, Merritt Levitan’s mother. If she could have one wish, she would encourage the entire world to embrace the silence that her daughter had grown to embrace. On any given day, you could find Merritt outside in the sun, completely untethered from the cell phone lifeline of today. Merritt was an avid sportswoman and outdoor adventurer. She was a black diamond skier and ski instructor for the Blazers program at Sugarbush Mountain in Vermont, co-captain of her varsity tennis team her senior year of high school and head of the outdoor club at her school.
Anna Levitan remembers the night before her daughter set off on the cross country trip that would change all of their lives.
“She asked me if I thought she would ‘make it' and I said, ‘Yes, but you will have to kick it in the end.’ I thought she was referring to her diabetes and how she might manage her blood sugars over the Rockies. Little did I know that her words would be so prescient.”
Anna Levitan and her husband Rich have fully supported the TextLess Live More campaign while still healing from the loss of their daughter. She admits that seeing her two younger children spending so much time on social media irritates her, especially considering their personal loss, but she vows to strike a balance, reluctantly allowing her children to participate in the activities of the age they were born in.
“We are the MADD of this generation,” Levitan asserts. “Eventually, the public became aware that drinking and driving kills — just like wearing a seatbelt saves lives. Those were the national awareness campaigns of 20 and 30 years ago. Social media and technology distractions are this generation's call-to-action.”
Originally published on Mom.me.More from Mom.Me
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