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Researchers develop lasers to detect alcohol from outside cars

It’s not smoke and mirrors used in a new laser detection device, but rather vapors and mirrors. The device can detect alcohol vapors from people breathing inside moving cars, according to research published recently in the Journal of Applied Remote Sensing.

The laser device could one day be aimed at passing vehicles by Leesburg police officers. If vapors are detected by the laser beams reflected by mirrors at the cars, law enforcement could then perform a traffic stop to give the driver a roadside sobriety test or otherwise check to see if there are signs of drunk driving.

Military University of Technology in Poland researchers believe the devices could deter people from driving after consuming alcohol. The article on the laser equipment did not state if the device could detect different levels of alcohol vapors in the vehicles or if every vehicle in which alcohol vapors are detected would trigger a law enforcement response.

If all vapors are detected, even minute amounts from a single beer consumed hours ago, agencies using the devices might find themselves facing court challenges.

The researchers acknowledged that the devices have no way of determining if the driver is giving off vapors or if the vapors are emanating from passengers in a vehicle.

The device aims a single-mode laser beam at a mirror on the other side of the road. Another beam is aligned with another mirror and then the returning beams are analyzed electronically, with beam-absorption measured.

A researcher said the device is effective, but admitted it is not foolproof. Drivers can disperse vapors by simply having car windows open, though the researcher “such situations are very easily detected by the system, which sends this information to the policeman indicating that the car should be checked.”

There was no indication of when the laser devices might be available to law enforcement officials, but the research shows that technology is going to be increasingly deployed to deter people from drinking and driving. For those facing a DUI/DWI, an experienced defense attorney can help you decide on your best means of avoiding the harshest penalties.

Source:, "Laser sensor busts drunk drivers from outside car," Will Parker, June 3, 2014

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