Police Pose as 'Panhandlers' at Off-Ramps to Catch Distracted Drivers

Four plain-clothes officers went undercover in California.

ByABC News
July 23, 2015, 11:07 AM
A women appears to text while driving in this undated file photo.
A women appears to text while driving in this undated file photo.
Getty Images

— -- An undercover police sting took a creative route to catch distracted drivers.

Four plain-clothed San Bernardino police officers stood on highway off-ramps on July 15 holding signs in an attempt to catch distracted drivers, police told ABC News today.

The cardboard signs read, "I am NOT homeless. SB Police looking for seatbelt/cell phone violations."

The officers were able to walk right up to some of the cars unnoticed because the drivers were consumed with either texting or talking on their cell phones, police said in a statement.

"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 today.

"That just goes to show how distracting a cell phone really is in the hands of a driver," he added.

Peck was one of the uniformed motorcycle officers waiting nearby for a signal from the plain-clothed officers. The team was able to stop 53 cars and issue 50 citations during the three-hour operation that was a first for the department, according to Peck.

Officers gave 33 tickets to drivers for cell phone use and 15 tickets for drivers not wearing seat belts. Five cars were also impounded after police discovered the driver was either unlicensed or driving on a suspended license.

It is illegal to text while driving in California and calls must be made on a hands-free device, like a Bluetooth earpiece.

San Bernardino Police Department officials said the goal was to raise awareness of the dangers of distracted driving and the importance of wearing a seatbelt.

“I got the idea initially from reading about the Royal Canadian Mounted Police trying it several months ago," Peck said. "It was much more successful than we anticipated."