Since 2014, Butin has been providing communications counseling and support to the organization TextLess Live More, which was created a year earlier following the tragic death of Merritt Levitan, a vibrant 18-year-old woman who had just graduated from high school.
On July 2, 2013, while on a group cross-country cycling adventure, Merritt was fatally injured when she was hit by a distracted driver. Six of the 12 other mostly teenage cyclists in Merritt’s party also were injured in the same horrific accident. The errant motorist – who was texting on his cell phone right before he hit the biking group with his vehicle – himself was just 21 years old.
Not long after her passing, Merritt’s immediate family, which was living in Georgia, joined students from her high school to organize TextLess Live More, a campaign to end distracted driving and to encourage young people to not let the virtual world embodied in our electronic devices obscure the enjoyment of living in the real world. TextLess Live More asked Butin to help spread its messages, and we ardently joined the effort, initially orchestrating national TV news coverage about the new TLLM campaign.
Then, in 2018, as the state of Georgia was about to begin enforcing new “hands-free” legislation prohibiting cell phone use while driving, we again helped bring the TLLM mission to the forefront. Realizing the law would go into effect in early July – on the fifth anniversary of the texting incident that took Merritt Levitan’s life – Butin recommended a joint publicity effort by TextLess and the governor’s office, to usher in Hands-Free Georgia while providing TLLM a platform for amplifying its messages. Acting as liaison between TLLM and the State Capitol, we opened the door for TLLM to again present its cause to the public and give the importance of texting less and living more significantly more exposure.
With Butin driving outreach, TLLM’s July 2 press conference at the Capitol drew massive coverage by media in Atlanta and around Georgia – including every network TV affiliate in the state capital. Several outlets also conducted separate interviews with members of the Levitan family, enabling them to make the TLLM story even more personal than it already is. All told, including subsequent social media postings, our media efforts reached an audience in excess of 35 million.
With Georgia becoming the 16th state in the nation to enact a hands-free law, Butin also procured a statement from Gov. Nathan Deal in conjunction with the press event. “One life lost due to distracted or intoxicated driving is one too many,” the governor declared. “We have had far too many beautiful and smiling faces taken from us due to moments of petty distractions on our roads, and today, we say, ‘no more.’”
Butin continues to support TLLM in its efforts to prevent distracted driving and to push for passage of hands-free laws in other states. There is still a long way to go.