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New Laser Device Can Detect Drunk Drivers From Afar

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[DWI Checkpoint]

DWI checkpoint

A laser device developed in Poland would make it possible for police to know if anyone in a moving vehicle up to 65.6 feet away (20 meters) has been drinking an alcoholic beverage, reports Jacqueline Howard for Huff Post Science. It works, she writes, “by detecting subtle changes in the laser beam as it passes through the alcohol vapor.”

The device uses a mirror that bounces the laser back from the moving vehicle to a detector that can sense small amounts of alcohol, writes Douglas Main for Popular Science. A study published in the Journal of Applied Remote Sensing and sponsored by Polish National Centre for Research and Development, finds that the device was able to detect the amount of alcohol exhaled by a person whose blood alcohol concentration (BAC) is above 0.1%. In the U.S., it is illegal to drive with a BAC of 0.08 or more, as Sarah Silbert notes in an article for Engadget.

The study explains how the device could be used:

It should be deployed by the side of the road to monitor each car passing by. If some vapors of alcohol are detected in a car, a message with a photo of the car including its number plate is sent to a policeman who is waiting by the road several hundred meters further. Then the policeman stops the suspected car driver and checks him using conventional equipment.

Developed and built at the Institute of Optoelectronics at the Military University of Technology, the device would need to be refined in order for police to use it to pinpoint drunk drivers, because it does not distinguish between a driver and a passenger, and could be thrown off by alcohol spilled in a car or by open windows, Douglas Main writes for Popular Science.

Moreover, an air conditioner in a car could prevent the device from detecting alcohol, Silbert writes. Solar screens on a car’s window could also prevent the device from working as designed, Howard writes. She quotes from the study’s conclusion: “However, such situations are very easily detected by the system, which sends this information to the policeman indicating that the car should be checked.”

The researchers write that despite its drawbacks, the device would at the very least make the jobs of police easier by reducing the number of vehicles they need to pull over for suspected drunk driving. The study concludes: “As far as the commercialization of the device is concerned, the next step would be to make it more compact, robust, and customer friendly, which can be achieved with high probability.”

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