Cops pretend to be panhandlers to crack down on distracted driving


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People begging for change are often ignored by California drivers as part of the scenery. But not paying attention to the less fortunate or the road got expensive this month, when cops went undercover as panhandlers to catch distracted drivers.

On July 15 four plainclothes police officers in San Bernardino, CA, stood on highway off-ramps and street corners holding cardboard signs. The signs didn’t ask for donations or tell a sad tale, they let drivers know they were cops looking for distracted driving. The signs read “I am NOT homeless. SB Police looking for seatbelt/cellphone violations.”

“During this detail, our undercover officers walked up to the windows of many vehicles unnoticed

by the drivers that were either talking or texting on their cellphones,” Chief Jarrod Burguan wrote in a press release.

“I made 13-14 stops and out of all of them, only one woman said she noticed and read the sign, but by that time it was too late,” police detective Devin Peck told ABC News. “That just goes to show how distracting a cell phone really is in the hands of a driver.”

The barely undercover cops signaled to a motorcycle officer nearby to pull over offending drivers. San Bernardino police were able to pull over 53 cars and handed out 50 citations, 33 of which were for cellphone use while driving, in just three hours. Five cars were impounded when it was discovered the drivers had either no license or a suspended one.

California is very active in cracking down on distracted driving. The state currently bans using cellphones without an ear piece or bluetooth, as well as texting while driving. In 2013, the California Department of Motor Vehicles reported over 426,000 handheld cell phone and texting convictions, with more than 57,000 tickets issued in April alone, according to the California Office of Traffic Safety.

Related Story: Cellphone laws and penalties by state

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