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Watch Out for Plain-Clothed Police Officers on the Road

Posted in Police on August 22, 2016

In late 2015, the San Bernardino police force used a different sort of tactic to catch distracted drivers on the roadways. Officers stood on the side of the road with cardboard signs and radioed patrol cars when they spotted infractions. To the unsuspecting eye, the roadside officer might look like any other homeless panhandler. On further inspection, however, the cardboard sign was not asking for a handout. It read: “I am not homeless. Looking for seatbelt and cellphone violations.”

The San Bernardino police department isn’t the first to use tricky tactics to catch unassuming motorists. In other areas of the country, police have also dressed as construction workers and ridden in buses to keep an eye on distracted motorists. In each ploy, the strategy is the same. One officer will spot the offending driver and radio to another officer down the road.

Related: Riverside Has More Unmarked Police Cars Than Standard Ones Monitoring the Roads

What Officers Can Stop Drivers for in California

Every state has different traffic laws, so keeping track of the latest laws can help you avoid a ticket from a cop waiting on the sidelines. In the state of California, all drivers must wear seat belts, and children 8 years old and younger must sit in a safety seat. In January 2017, the state will also extend the requirement for rear-facing safety seats to all children under age two that are also under 40 pounds and under 40 inches tall.

Drivers may not use a phone to write, text, play Pokémon Go, engage in any other text-based activity, or make a cellphone call behind the wheel in California. Only drivers over age 18 can use a hands free device while driving.

You may also get pulled over for doing your makeup in the car, eating, or engaging in any other distracted driving activity. If an officer has reasonable suspicion that you’re disregarding the safety of others on the road, he or she can pull you over and give you a citation. Depending on your infraction, these distracted driving traps could cost you anywhere from $100 to $1,000 or higher.

Is There Any Way to Identify a Plainclothes Cop on the Road?

Drivers looking closely at the signs on the side of the highway may notice the difference in cardboard messaging, but you may not always have an easy way to detect an officer searching for infractions. Instead of trying to spot the officer before you get caught, focus on following the rules of the road to reduce the risk of receiving an inconvenient fine.

Why Officers Are Ramping Up Efforts to Stop Distracted Driving

Distracted driving is a serious problem throughout America, and texting is only the beginning of the problem. Drivers are focused on everything from online games to digging around in their bags in the back seat. One of the most compelling arguments for the dangers of distracted driving involves the length drivers may travel while reading one text. If you take your eyes of the road for five seconds to check your email, tune your radio, or reorient your GPS while driving at 55 miles per hour, you’ll have traveled the equivalent distance of a football field blind.

Staying Safe on California Roads

At best, distracted drivers will get away with their activities for a time. At worst, they may cause serious accidents and injure themselves and others. Don’t risk the warning, citation, or accident. Focus on driving while on the roads, and pull over if you need to make a phone call with a

Do prepare yourself for a wrongful citation. If an officer pulls you over and you weren’t engaged in a distracted driving activity, avoid confronting the officer at the time. Accept the citation and explore your options later. Mistakes can and do happen when officers use ploys to try to catch offending drivers.


Graham Donath is a Riverside criminal defense lawyer and a Certified Specialist in Defense under the California State Bar. To speak with Donath in a free, private consultation, contact his offices in Riverside or Irvine, CA today.