Bethesda Police Officer Goes Undercover as Homeless Man to Catch Drivers Breaking Texting and Driving Laws
“I’ve spotted over 30 [offenses] in an hour,” said an undercover police officer in Bethesda, Maryland, as he watched for drivers on their morning commute oblivious to his cardboard sign warning while breaking texting and driving laws.
Montgomery County Police Corporal Patrick Robinson dressed as a homeless man on Tuesday morning, October 27th, and served as the lookout for drivers actively violating the state’s anti-texting and driving legislation. He also spotted several people who were not wearing seat belts.
Robinson proved just how distracted these drivers can be – his cardboard sign, rather than stating something like “I am homeless, any change helps,” read “I am not homeless. I am a Montgomery County police officer looking for cell phone texting violations.”
He watched for drivers clearly on their phones or breaking other laws, and told officers at a checkpoint ahead the license plate and make and model of the vehicles in question. His radio and body camera backed up each statement.
“You cannot text while driving, you cannot have your phone in your hand while you’re driving, you cannot have the phone to your ear while you’re driving,” said Montgomery County police sergeant Phillip Chapin.
Maryland’s texting and driving laws are stricter than South Carolina’s texting and driving law. SC allows drivers to make or receive a call while driving. Although you can talk on the phone, it is illegal in South Carolina to text and drive.
Robinson said that about 20 percent of drivers on the roads in Maryland broke the state’s texting and driving laws or were otherwise distracted by an electronic device.
“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,” says Chapin. “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.”
According to several distracted driving surveys, drivers know that using a mobile device while driving is very dangerous, but many do it anyway. A survey conducted by AT&T last year showed that at least one-quarter of drivers know that using a mobile phone or other electronic device while driving causes a dangerous level of distraction, but they believed they were capable of “multi-tasking,” so they did it anyway.
Texting and driving has become statistically as dangerous as drunk driving, and is now the leading cause of death among teenagers and young adults.
Meanwhile, Bethesda issued 56 tickets to distracted drivers, and 22 warnings: 31 tickets and 9 warnings were issued for using a handheld electronic device while driving, 4 tickets and 4 warnings were specifically for texting and driving. There were other tickets and citations for driving without a license, driving in the shoulder, a few tickets for license plate violations, and one ticket for negligent driving.