BELLINGHAM -- Despite his rather off-putting appearance, the hulking guy in the cut-off hoodie at the corner of Bennett Road and Airport Drive near Bellingham isn’t a drifter on the wrong side of the law.
He is the law.
He's an undercover deputy with the Whatcom County Sheriff's Office. Since people now know to keep an eye out for cops in cars when they're texting and driving, the police are going low profile.
“It's sneaky, yeah,” says Doug Dahl, of the Washington Traffic Safety Commission.
The undercover spotter standing nonchalantly on the side of the road radios a patrol car which pulls the distracted driver over. Deputies say they can nab 50 drivers in just a couple of hours this way.
It's far more efficient, and equally as astonishing for Sgt. Kevin McFadden who believes at least one out of every ten drivers are on their phones at any given time.
“I've actually had people still on their phones when they're pulled over,” he says. “They tell me they’re texting their girlfriend about being stopped for being on the phone.”
Deputies will often give a warning but sometimes do write the $136 ticket. Many times they feel compelled to, given people's preoccupation with their phones, and the sometimes fatal consequences.
“From 2014 to 2015 we had a 30 percent increase in deaths from distracted driving,” says Dahl. “That represents about 40 more people killed on the road than the year before. People have to change their behaviors or more people will die.”
The sheriff’s office has produced a video showing just how prevalent the problem is and how easy it is for deputies to nab distracted drivers.