At 16 years old, Detwan Moore is a new driver on Coastal Georgia roads.

Though excited about the idea of his newfound freedom, the sophomore at Glynn Academy is understandably apprehensive about taking the wheel solo. Driving is a huge responsibility, one that if taken less than seriously can have major consequences to the car’s operator as well as other drivers.

“This isn’t something to mess around with,” Detwan said.

With that in mind, Detwan joined dozens of fellow Glynn Academy students Wednesday to declare they would take driving seriously, and pledged not to text and drive.

“Texting and driving, it can kill you, those in the car with you and even those around you,” Detwan said. “My name is signed right here, and I am making that promise to leave my cell phone alone while I am behind the wheel.”

Those were the words Glynn Academy freshman counselor Mary Belechak and text-free driving advocate Anna Levitan were hoping to hear. The St. Simons Island resident founded the TextLess Live More campaign following the tragic death of her 18-year-old daughter, Merritt, who was killed while on a cross-country cycling trip after a distracted driver plowed into the group of bikers, injuring 13 and killing Levitan’s child.

“It was devastating,” Levitan said. “Merritt was a bright light and was loved by everyone who knew her.”

The driver of the vehicle that caused the accident was using his cellphone to text a message while driving. The end result happened very quickly.

“It happened so fast,” Levitan said. “That’s a message these kids need to know. Even just one text while driving is enough to cause a disaster.

“After Merritt passed, I knew our family had to do something to stop this from happening again. That’s when TextLess Live More began.”

For the first time in the national, school-based program’s two-year history, the campaign set up outside the cafeteria on the Glynn Academy campus to encourage students to pledge that they would stop texting and driving. During the lunchtime event, Levitan and Belechak were joined by Communities in Schools representatives, adults and students, to present the campaign. They sold bumper stickers, awareness bracelets and cellphone stickers with the TextLess Live More logo featured to be used as ongoing reminders of their vow to put down their cellphones and pay attention to the road.

To date, the program has visited more than 100 schools across the country. Levitan said the goal is to reach some 500 schools by the end of the year.

Every day in the United States, 11 teenagers die in accidents related to texting while driving, she said. Knowing that statistic, it is imperative for students to recognize that texting and driving is their generation’s equivalent of drinking and driving, she said.

“Texting and driving is like driving down the road while drinking a fifth of vodka,” Levitan said. “It is an all-around terrible idea that will have consequences.”

The campaign’s message hit home with school senior Tyler Atkinson.

“It can wait,” Tyler said. “Texting and driving is not worth taking a life.”

While the central message of the program is to showcase how dangerous distracted driving can be, Levitan and Belechak, too, wanted to use the campaign to present students with the idea of putting down the cellphone outside of the car as well.

It’s all too common for students to text each other rather than have real conversations, and the impacts of social media overuse, with habits such as constantly checking screens for new messages, are leading to less social students.

“Young people hardly even talk to one another face-to-face anymore,” Levitan said. “We need these young people to actually connect with one another, not just use their phones for communicating.”

Belechak hopes to expand the TextLess campaign next year to include monthly “no phone” days, when students will pledge to shut off their cellphones for the entire school day and participate in real interactions.

“It’s easy for students to forget they need that critical social interaction without technology,” she said. “You see students texting one another while in the same room. You see them not making eye contact. We need to reverse that. Students need to, rather than press a button, have a conversation.”

For more information about TextLess Live More and ways to get involved, visit textlesslivemore.org.

Reporter Anna Hall writes about education and other local topics. Contact her at ahall@thebrunswicknews.com, on Facebook or at 265-8320, ext. 322.

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