It’s not unusual to see panhandlers on the side of the road, people holding signs at a busy intersection, hoping that someone will help them out.
Often, people drive by without stopping or paying attention—which was too bad, for some drivers in Bethesda, Maryland. If they had just seen what was written on this man’s sign, they might have saved themselves some trouble.
He definitely looks the part—one driver even stopped to offer the poor man some cash. But the man turned him down.
He wasn’t homeless at all—he was an undercover police officer, looking for distracted drivers.
That sign wasn’t looking for money or food—it was a warning:
I am not homeless. I am a Montgomery County police officer looking for cell phone texting violations.
The unusual sting operation went into effect in Fall 2015. The undercover officer was also equipped with a body cam and police radio, alerting officers down the road of infractions like using their phone while driving.
They were also randomly scheduled, so drivers never knew when the police were watching them.
It proved to be an effective way of cracking down on distracted driving.
After getting tipped off by the undercover officer, police down the road gave out tickets.
According to WTOP, the most common infraction was using hands to talk on the phone while driving, with 31 citations and 9 warnings—in just a two-hour shift. That violation comes with an $83 ticket.
Drivers complained about the sting. Tickets for holding up traffic were given, and those ticketed who were interviewed by WUSA, offered any number of excuses or explanations, everything from using the navigational app Waze, to having to make an important phone call.
The officers stuck with the letter of the law: “Ultimately the law is a hands free device so it can’t even be in your hand,” said Ofc. Brian Nave.
However, many passengers understood and even thanked the officers for their work.
Bethesda’s River and Goldsboro Roads are known for being dangerous, and many drivers agreed that something needed to be done.
“It’s smart. It’s really dangerous,” said one driver who was pulled over. “I’m not disagreeing.”
The police department stresses the importance of having a hands-free device, because even seconds with your eyes off the road can be deadly.
“If you’re using your thumbs, texting, while driving down the road it’s totally distracting, because you have to look down to see what you’re typing,”Montgomery County police Sgt. Phillip Chapin told WTOP.
“When you have your phone to your ear you’re distracted because you only have one hand on the wheel, and it’s hard to react.”
So if you’re a phone-addicted driver, it’s best to just break the habit once and for all—whether or not there’s an undercover cop with his eye on you.