Jeff Angileri
Mar 4, 2009, 9:24 PM

If you've talked on a cell phone, texted, smoked, put on make-up, or even had lunch on the go -- you're probably guilty of distracted driving.

UW-Whitewater is trying to break its students of those bad habits.

Jessica Martinez remembers the moment she struck another car while driving and talking on her cell phone.

I was only going 35 mph, but still the damage was considerable. And my pride was greatly bruised, she said.

Now, Martinez, a medical assistant at UW-Whitewater, is spearheading an effort to get students to drive without distractions -- no talking, no texting, no multitasking.

It's bringing about conversation -- that's the most important part, said Martinez. Students are admitting to each other, and talking about it amongst each other, about what they're doing and what they're habits are.

Resident assistant Nate King, a junior, says he starts the dialogue with other students by sharing personal stories.

My mom was hit four years ago, she was five cars back at a stop sign, and she was hit by a high school girl going 40 mph who didn't even realize the cars had stopped, he said.

The program is catching on. Nearly a quarter of students at Wells East residence hall have signed the pledge. That's a start, says Dr. William Scheckler at St. Mary's Hospital, who has compiled years' worth of documentation citing the dangers of cell phone driving.

According to Dr. Scheckler, It's as dangerous as driving drunk.

A 2004 Harvard study says more than 2,600 people die every year in the United States and more than 500,000 people are injured in cell phone related accidents.

It doesn't matter whether it's a hand-held cell phone, or a hands-free cellphone with Bluetooth technology, whether it's built into the dashboard or not, Dr. Scheckler said. Your brain focuses on that conversation. The more intense the conversation, the more intense your brain focuses.

Wisconsin doctors are trying to make driving and talking on the phone illegal. The Dane County Medical Society is working on a resolution to urge the state legislature to adopt such a law.

Connecticut, California, New Jersey, New York, and Washington are the only states with hand-held cell phone bans. Eight states prohibit texting while driving.