For many drivers, homeless people begging for change on the corner simply blend into the background. However, Maryland drivers who paid attention to the road were able to avoid a ticket this week from an undercover officer.
Montgomery County, MD, Police Cpl. Patrick Robinson headed to a street corner dressed in jeans, a hoodie shirt and sunglasses on Tuesday. His panhandler disguise was perfect for catching distracted drivers. He even held up a cardboard sign. It didn’t ask for change however. His sign read “I am a Montgomery County police officer looking for cell phone texting violations.” When Robinson spotted a distracted driver, he ducked behind his sign and radioed awaiting squad cars.
This isn’t just a fun trick to play on citizens, the police are sending a message. “Pay attention to what we’re doing, that way we can reduce accidents and save lives,” Robinson told NBC 4.
Montgomery Police issued 56 tickets plus nine warnings to drivers caught not using hands-free devices while talking on the phone. Police say the sting is in response to an increase in crashes and deaths due to distracted driving. “We’re seeing more and more, as we pull cell phone records, that they’re distracted driver-related deaths because they will not put their phones down,” Sgt. Phillip Chapin told NBC.
This is a brilliant tactic, but it isn’t new. Four plainclothes police officers in San Bernardino, CA, stood on highway off-ramps and street corners holding cardboard signs that read “I am NOT homeless. SB Police looking for seatbelt/cellphone violations.” The issues 33 citations for distracted driving in just three hours.
Officers certainly have their work cut out for them. At any given time in the US there are 660,000 distracted drivers. In 2013, 3,154 people were killed in motor vehicle crashes involving distracted drivers, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.