Distracted-driving sting in Montgomery Co. snags 65 drivers; more to come

While many of us hand out valentines Feb. 14, Montgomery County police officers will hand out tickets to distracted drivers caught holding cellphones.(WTOP/Kate Ryan)
WASHINGTON — In just under two hours at the busy Bethesda, Maryland, intersection of River and Goldsboro roads, 65 drivers had a rough start to their Wednesday morning: They were pulled over for distracted driving.

It’s illegal to drive while using a phone, yet it causes dozens of accidents across the region each day. To fight that, Montgomery County is cracking down on distracted drivers and detailing what kind of ticket they could face.

“We do it randomly in different locations. We have somebody hold the sign and we put out a signboard trailer or something like that to let people know. It’s against the law. If we see people doing it, we’re going to write them for it,” Sgt. Phillip Chapin with Montgomery County police said of ticketing.

Chapin said it’s one of many random distracted-driving stings lined up as the county doubles down on the continuing problem. The “Stay Alert, Stay Alive” campaign is geared at walkers and bikers, too, which county leaders plan to announce Thursday.

Virginia is also cracking down on distracted driving; transportation leaders there called it “an epidemic” as distraction caused the deaths of more than 800 people in 2017.

Regardless of where drivers are pulled over in Maryland, the state-required fines are the same for distracted driving.

“It’s $83 and if the driver is using their hands and using a handheld telephone while the vehicle is in motion. The other fine is $70 at one point if the driver is writing, reading or sending an electronic message while the motor vehicle is in the roadway,” Chapin said.

So, if drivers are in standstill in traffic, even reading their phone is breaking the law.

“It’s a lot cheaper to go buy a Bluetooth device or even hook up their phone,” Chapin said. “Because a lot of people we stop don’t even have their phones hooked up to the Bluetooth in their car.”

Megan Cloherty

WTOP Investigative Reporter Megan Cloherty primarily covers breaking news, crime and courts.

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