A man holding a cardboard sign on the side of a road in Montgomery County, Maryland, Tuesday morning looked homeless on first glance -- but he was actually a police officer in disguise working to catch people texting and driving.
Montgomery County Police Cpl. Patrick Robinson went undercover in jeans, sunglasses and a sweatshirt with the hood pulled up as part of enforcement against a growing number of dangerous distracted drivers.
Commuters who paid attention would see the sign he held said not that he was asking for money but, "I am a Montgomery County police officer looking for cell phone texting violations."
When Robinson spotted a driver using their phone, he ducked his head behind his sign to speak into a police radio and alert officers further east on River Road.
"Pay attention to what we're doing, that way we can reduce accidents and save lives," he said.
Officers issued a total of 56 tickets county-wide, including 31 tickets and 9 warnings to people caught using their phones without hands-free devices.
Local police are seeing a spike in crashes that occur because drivers aren't paying attention.
"We're seeing more and more, as we pull cell phone records, that they're distracted driver-related deaths because they will not put their phones down," Sgt. Phillip Chapin said.
In D.C. and Maryland, police can pull you over for texting or talking on a phone without a hands-free device while driving. In Virginia, only texting is illegal for all drivers. School bus drivers and people under age 18 in Virginia should not have a cell phone behind the wheel at all.
Drivers using cell phones are three times more likely to get into crashes, according to research by the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute. The number of people killed in crashes involving distracted drivers rose nearly 7 percent between 2012 and 2013, the U.S. Department of Transportation said.