Lasers to Detect Drunk Drivers?

Posted by Jon Ibanez on June 9th, 2014

We all know about those red light cameras, speed cameras, and other automated traffic enforcement devices that inconveniently hover over the most convenient intersections. Well, there may soon be a new traffic device that will detect another “no no” on the streets; drunk driving.

According to a new study published in the Journal of Applied Remote Sensing, Polish researchers at the Military University of Technology in Warsaw have developed lasers that detect the presence of alcohol in passing vehicles.

The researchers used “stand-off” detection which identifies substances at a distance. This type of detection is traditionally used for identifying explosive and hazardous materials without getting close to them.

The researchers shot a laser into a vehicle’s windows and through the cabin. The cabin of the test vehicles were filled with an amount of alcohol vapors similar to the amount that a person with 0.10 blood alcohol content would exhale. The laser would then reflect off of a mirror located on the other side of the vehicle and back through the cabin of the vehicle to a photodetector.

The reflected light could then be analyzed by the researchers to determine how much of the original laser beam had been absorbed by the alcohol vapors in the cabin of the vehicle. This allowed the researchers to determine the amount of alcohol in the cabin.

If the device detects alcohol, rather than sending a citation to the driver of the vehicle as in the case of current traffic enforcement devices, an automated photo system would snap a picture of the vehicle and send it to law enforcement waiting down the road a ways. There, the officers could use a breathalyzer to determine if the driver was actually drunk.

In their study, the researchers acknowledged that “countermeasures” could distort the results such as driving with the windows down or driving with an air conditioner on.

Additionally, it is entirely possible that alcohol vapors located within the cabin of a vehicle are coming from drunk passengers or spilled alcohol.

Even if such was the case, would officers be able to stop the car to “check” if it is the driver who’s drunk?

If this device were to be used and operate in this manner, this would eventually be up to the courts to decide. But let’s hope it never gets to that point.

Officers need, at a minimum, reasonable suspicion that a driver is drunk to stop the vehicle on suspicion of DUI. The question becomes whether the information provided by the laser analysis gives the awaiting officers reasonable suspicion that the approaching driver is drunk.

I think not.

If it did, every single designated driver would be stopped because of their drunk passengers. Without other independent corroborating information observed by law enforcement, the reasonable suspicion is based solely on a device that cannot verify what the source of the alcohol is. And it goes without saying that alcohol can come from a number of sources other than a drunk driver.

Forget about the 4th Amendment. A device like this would give officers carte blanche to stop anyone whom the device detected as having some alcohol in the vehicle whether it’s coming from the driver or not.

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