Merritt Levitan was only 18 years old when she lost her life at the hands of a distracted driver who was texting. She was on a cross country bike tour when she was hit by the driver, who also injured 13 other bikers during the July 3, 2013, incident.
Now, Merritt’s family, national advocates and local education officials are keeping her memory alive to keep others safe on the road.
Every day in the United States, 11 teenagers die in accidents related to texting while driving. Ninety-four percent of teenagers call texting and driving a serious threat.
With students from Glynn Academy preparing to celebrate prom this weekend, school officials came together Thursday to remind them to put down their cellphones while driving and pay attention to the road ahead of them.
Glynn Academy counselor Mary Belechak welcomed Anna Levitan, Merritt’s mother, to the school to help rally a pledge campaign for students to sign as a means of speaking up, to say they will drive text-free.
“Texting and driving is our generation’s drunk driving,” Belechak said, noting the campaign also came to the downtown campus last year to promote the movement and have students make the same pledge. “TextLess LiveMore is a national awareness campaign to end distracted driving and change negative social behaviors such as texting and driving. We are asking students to especially make this choice the night of prom, March 26.”
Students were asked to sign a pledge and banner to receive a TextLess LiveMore bracelet to remind them to enjoy prom without the threat of texting and driving.
“We are asking them to help us end texting and driving, and help us change behaviors around technology,” Belechak said. “We are asking them to help us, help themselves, save lives.”
Glynn Academy freshman Joey Wooten was more than happy to add his name to the banner and sign on to the text-less campaign. Having been behind the wheel for less than a year with his learner’s permit, Wooten is already learning that texting and driving is a dangerous habit.
“Do I text and drive? Never,” the 15-year-old said. “I’m just learning the ways of the road, so I need to keep both hands on the wheel and my eyes on the road.”
With slightly more experience navigating roads, school junior Preston Joseph acknowledged he once had a habit of texting and driving. But after his sister had a close call with a car accident due to texting and driving, one Joseph said could have been fatal had good fate not intervened, he now puts his phone away when driving.
“I haven’t texted (while driving) since January, when my sister came very close to hitting a tree because she was texting while driving,” Joseph said. “That really changed my mind.”
Watching as a sea of students flocked to sign their names on the wide banner during their lunch period in the outdoor courtyard, Anna Levitan was noticeably moved. Having toured the nation to help spread the word for ending the behavior of texting and driving, Anna Levitan says she has seen a shift in teens’ outlook on driving with cellphones, and has seen an equal shift in their parents’ reactions.
“This is a real issue for our teens. For my family, it changed everything and it is hard to talk about and think about. But turning such an awful accident into a more positive and productive campaign, that has been a saving grace for me,” said Anna Levitan, who lives on St. Simons Island.
Levitan said she plans to return to the school later in the year to promote the campaign during graduation week at both Glynn Academy and Brunswick High School. The more she can get the message out, the better, she said.
“Over the last few years, we have been able to grow this campaign into a national effort. That means it is impacting that many more people and making that much more change,” she said.
For more information about TextLessLiveMore and ways to get involved, visit textlesslivemore.org.