How Undercover Cops Catch Distracted Drivers

Is that a police officer or a panhandler? In Ottawa, guessing wrong will cost you.

Undercover police in the Canadian city are going to great lengths, like dressing up as bedraggled panhandlers, to catch unobservant drivers using their mobile phones. The officers carry cardboard signs explicitly saying they are undercover police looking to give out distracted driving tickets, but so many drivers tune out vagrants they do not notice the sign until they get slapped with a fine.

Distracted driving remains a huge problem, and this latest law enforcement tactic is one of many attempts to curb the growing habit. Many North American states and provinces ban cell phone use on the road, and U.S. regulators asked car companies to stop adding features that encourage distracted driving, though they have not enforced the proposed guidelines.

A glut of safe driving apps are available to curb distracted driving, some which even disable phones while in transit, and carriers are also considering plans to combat the problem. Still, distracted driving continues, leaving law enforcement grappling at unorthodox campaigns to affect change. Units in British Columbia, Canada and Florida also lean on the homeless schtick to get more aggressive with ticketing.

California is ramping up public awareness campaigns against distracted driving, calling people who text and drive zombies, but few states can top Ottawa’s approach, which pointedly illustrates how drivers using their cell phones can literally not notice police feet away from them.

This police tactic drew criticism for being sneaky, but the ruse will likely continue if it reduces distracted driving. Law enforcement will keep hammering away at offenders in hopes of lowering the hefty death toll from careless texting and chatting behind the wheel.

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