Nine years ago today, Merritt Levitan lost her life due to four senseless seconds of distracted driving. Her father, Rich, shares his thoughts on the blog on this TextLess Live More Day, 2022.
I think about these words every day. I think how much better we’d all feel and how many lives would be saved if we all did this: text less. I think how great it would be if some of the super smart engineers and scientists got together to build a device and applications that did not tap into the part of your brain that makes you want/need more, all the time. I think about how those who design the television-sized screens in many of our newest, most technologically advanced vehicles, could create a system that allows you to do what you need to do to safely operate the vehicle, know where you’re going, and stream a podcast or music, but not read a message, write a message, watch a video. Not be distracted when you drive.
I think about how texting and what we now call digital distraction caused a crash that took my daughter from me, her mom, her younger brother and sister, her grandparents, her cousins, and so so so many friends nine years ago today. Every day.
Lee Merritt Levitan was 18 years old when she was killed by a driver who was texting. Merritt and 9 other cyclists were struck by the driver as they rode on one of the longest, straightest, quietest country roads you’ll ever see cutting through wide open farmland on a clear day in Arkansas, starting the second 1000 mile leg of their cross country journey. The driver was texting. The driver was distracted. I went to that road. I sat where Merritt lay unconscious before she was airlifted to the regional trauma center in Memphis. I sat therefor a long while.
I talked to Merritt and promised her that I’d take care of her mom, her brother, and her sister as best I could, and I knew they were strong and would live lives that would make her proud of them. I told her I’d take care of myself, and I’d be strong and honor her by living a good life and being a good person. And I told her I’d do everything I could do to make sure other dads, moms, brothers, sisters, grandparents, aunt, uncles, cousins, and friends don’t have someone taken from them because of 4 seconds of distracted driving.
So many lives changed forever on July 3, 2013.
TextLess Live More was created by several of Merritt’s friends as their way of taking action and sharing with each other how important it is that no one else lose their life due to distracted driving. TextLess Live More evolved into a non-profit organization with national reach entirely focused on ended distracted driving, distracted living, and behavior change that saves lives. Our focus is our country’s youth, and through our wonderful partnership with SADD (Students Against Destructive Decisions), the TextLess Live More message is connecting with high school students across the country. And it’s a message being delivered by students to students. Thousands and thousands of thoughtful, caring, strong young people, like Merritt, are talking to each other about the tragic outcomes of being distracted and too connected to your device, particularly behind the wheel. By talking about the issue and creating awareness, they are helping to change behavior and save lives.
TextLess Live More also advocates for hands free legislation to be enacted in legislatures across the country and has been a part of successful efforts most recently in Georgia, Massachusetts, and hopefully soon in Pennsylvania. 24 of our States have a distracted driving/hands free driving law on the books now. 26 do not. On June 16, 2022, with our partners at SADD, we started the conversation with seven Senate offices to advocate for our federal government to push these 26 states to do the same.
We have much work to do.
July 2, July 3, October 11 (Merritt’s birthday), and the other 362 days of the year, I wake up and miss Merritt. I say good morning, give her a kiss, tell her I miss her. Every day I see someone, something, that reminds me of Merritt and that she’s gone on to glory, as her mom would say, and I’ll never get to feel one of her big, strong bear hugs again. And I recommit to my promise to do whatever I can so other dads don’t share my experience.
Focus. Put your phone down. Don’t pick it up until you’ve finished driving and parked your car. It’s not that important. Practice it. Every day. Until it becomes second nature and you never do it again. And it does takes practice. It’s an amazingly useful device, but don’t use it while you’re driving. Four seconds. That’s all it takes to take a life and change many lives. Not worth it.
Thank you for reading, and thank you for joining TextLess Live More to end distracted driving and save lives.