Montgomery Co. police to step up distracted driving patrols on Valentine’s Day

While many of us hand out valentines Feb. 14, Montgomery County, Maryland, police officers will issue tickets to distracted drivers caught holding cellphones.

“Although we have a great enforcement effort, clearly with drivers’ behaviors and how cellphone use is so prevalent, we have to do more and better,” said Tom Didone, the department’s acting assistant chief.

So on Valentine’s Day, expect to see police out in full force from the morning through evening drive in problematic areas around the county.

These efforts stem from the county’s Vision Zero campaign, which aims to reduce deaths and severe injuries on county roads by 40% this year and eliminate them by 2030.

In the first few weeks of this year, three pedestrians were killed in the county.

“Officers that don’t routinely do traffic enforcement will be sent out onto the roadways to work with our patrol and traffic officers to aggressively enforce the laws that day,” Didone said. “When we’re out there, we’re going to be conducting zero-tolerance enforcement, so if we see you, we will stop you.”

After stopping a car, the officer will decide whether to issue a warning or a ticket. However, officers are encouraged to give citations, Didone said.

A ticket for texting and driving comes with a $70 fine and one point on a driving record. A ticket for holding a cellphone in a hand is $83 with no points for a first offense, and officers won’t accept using the phone as a GPS as an excuse.

“I stopped a driver the other day who was clearly holding his phone up talking on his phone,” Didone said. “I could see his lips moving. But yet when I pulled him over, he tried to show me that he was just using it as a GPS.

Maryland law does not allow you to hold a cellphone in your hand, even if you’re using GPS. It’s important that drivers know these little tricks are not going to work. We’ve been around the block a few times.”

The Valentine’s Day crackdown will be the first of many in 2020, Didone said.

“The goal is to have these blitzes in addition to our regular enforcement two or three times a month, every month throughout the year,” Didone said.

The department is in the process of getting unmarked cars for some of their traffic officers, so they can more easily catch distracted drivers in the act.

It’s unclear how many unmarked cars they will get, or how soon they will hit the road, but Didone expects officers to start using them this year.

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