More than 40 drivers passing through designated school zones found out the hard way earlier this month that looks can be deceiving.

The Pima County Sheriff’s Department set up a not-so-elaborate plan to catch motorists running stop signs and catching up on emails instead of keeping their eyes on the road at the intersection of North La Cholla Boulevard and West Wetmore Road.

For hours, an undercover deputy stood at one of the corners of the intersection, holding a sign that read, “Have a blessed day.” If the person were seen texting, the deputy would flip the sign over.

“You are about to be stopped for being on your cell phone,” it read.

The deputy would then radio a nearby colleague to pull the driver over.

Another undercover deputy was on the lookout for drivers rolling through stop signs.

In all, there were 43 traffic stops that day, including 28 stop-sign violations, eight seatbelt violations, five child-restraint violations and 16 people seen using their cellphones while driving.

Officials said several motorists were stopped and cited for entering a crosswalk while children were present and one mother was cited for driving with a small child on her lap.

Pima County Sheriff’s Department Sgt. Dawn Barkman said the program was the brainchild of the special unit division, born of repeated complaints about unsafe driving in the area.

“We definitely want to make sure to make the kids are safe,” she said.

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She described drivers who had been pulled over as “chagrined” but understanding that they had violated the law.

“They just took the ticket,” she said.

The day at the intersection was dubbed a success and will be repeated in the coming weeks, she said.

Funding for the operation was made available through grants from the Governor’s Office of Highway Safety.

Down the Road
  • The Arizona Department of Transportation will close Wilmot Road underneath Interstate 10 Sunday and Monday night for bridge-deck demolition work. The area will be closed between 8 p.m. and 5 a.m. During the closure, all vehicles should cross I-10 using Craycroft or Kolb roads.
  • ADOT crews installing new sewer lines across Ajo Way will close individual lanes between Interstate 19 and Holiday Isle, starting Sunday night. Work is scheduled to occur nightly from 11 p.m. to 5 a.m. the following morning. Ajo Way will be reduced to a single lane in each direction with traffic shifts through early Friday.
  • ADOT will close the exit ramp at eastbound Interstate 10 and Mescal and J Six Ranch roads on Friday. Crews are to close the ramp between 12:01 and 5 a.m. for guardrail repair work. All traffic should use the State Route 90 exit in Benson, then take westbound I-10 back to the Mescal Six Ranch exits.

Contact reporter Joe Ferguson at jferguson@tucson.com or 573-4197. On Twitter: @JoeFerguson