Winnipeg police are staking out busy intersections around the city to catch people who are using their cellphones while driving.

Plainclothes and uniformed officers ticketed roughly 50 drivers in three to four hours while standing on Ellice Avenue and St. James Street on Thursday afternoon.

"People have developed a need to have instant information and … they can't keep that cellphone down," Const. Steve Bowen told CBC News.

Distracted driving

Officers from six police agencies involved in an MPI enforcement campaign ticketed nearly 1,500 distracted drivers in April. (CBC)

"This is a problem that is out of control."

The undercover crackdown is part of a month-long campaign to stop distracted driving in Winnipeg. Police say they're finding this technique works best so far.

Plainclothes officers stand by the intersection, watching for drivers handling their phones for any reason — talking, texting, checking social media, or even looking at the time.

The officers communicate with a nearby cruiser via radio when they see someone who fits the bill.

The drivers in question are then approached by officers who tell them they're getting ticketed and ask them to pull over to the side of the road.

One officer said some drivers are so distracted by their cellphones, they don't even notice him walking up to their vehicles until he taps on their windows.

In most cases, the officers received a less than warm reception from motorists.

"I told her use a speakerphone and then she was holding the phone … but we didn't know we had a trap over there from the police," said Lela Helfrich, whose sister received a ticket.

Tom Taylor said he was at a red light, telling someone who had called him that he couldn't talk because he was driving, when he was pulled over by police and ticketed.

"It's a scam. It's entrapment, as far as I'm concerned," he said.