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.
Texting and driving is now the leading cause of death among teen drivers.
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
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 More campaign 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
The silence is deafening for 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.
“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
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
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.”