As highway speeding persists at an alarming rate, with its offenders oblivious to the risk they present for themselves and other drivers, law enforcement officers are steadily adopting laser speed systems to combat it.
For decades, speed radar has been the dominant tool for traffic enforcement. It is still widely used. But as highways have become more traffic clogged, and speeders' ranks have grown, laser devices, also known as LIDAR (light detection and ranging) are filling a growing need to quickly and accurately isolate and cite offenders.
Known for their light weight, quickness, reliability and accuracy, laser speed guns have already helped prevent speed related accidents and fatalities. Yet, judging by speed statistics, lasers still have their work cut out for them.
A nationwide problem
The data for fatal accidents, as provided by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, show that speed is a contributing factor in about 31 percent of all fatal crashes.
"That's a huge number," says Lowell Porter, vice-chair of the Governors Highway Safety Association. "We're talking about 31 percent of the total number of people who died in 2007 (the most recent year for this data) — 13,040 lives in speed-related crashes around the country."
Is law enforcement making progress with getting speeders to let up on the accelerator? Says Porter: "We're having an impact in certain areas, but overall speed-related crashes are not going down. It's one of those driving behaviors that require a lot of maintenance."
Porter, a former Washington state trooper, has used both radar and LIDAR for nabbing speeders. He feels laser has been highly effective in validating speed offenders in high-density traffic and in training them to go slower.
Meanwhile, LIDAR speed detection technology is advancing. The latest innovation is incorporating video in a laser system to capture speeders red-handed. Lasers with a video camera are expected to make the traffic officer's job easier and more convincing.
This is what Laser Technology Inc. (LTI) of Centennial, Colo., a manufacturer of laser speed enforcement systems, anticipates as it unveils its LTI 20-20 TruCAM tool that integrates LIDAR technology with a digital video camera. TruCAM will keep a complete sequence of video-recorded speeding events, plus create a high-resolution image that identifies vehicle make, model, license plate number, and facial characteristics of the driver.
TruCAM's video camera is a central capability that works with other critical operation features. A Dual Speed Mode can automatically differentiate between cars and commercial vehicles, and apply the correct preset speed limit. And a Distance Between Cars (DBC) Mode can be added to TruCAM for "Following Too Closely" violations. DBC mode measures speed, traveling time and distance between two vehicles.
In addition to being a speed enforcement laser and video camera, TruCAM can feed statistical data into any geographic information system (GIS). The built-in GPS can automatically generate location-based information every time the TruCAM is used.
LTI's CEO David Williams believes the laser with digital video will be well received by law enforcement. "It's the same form factor they're used to — the handheld platform — and they'll gradually get comfortable with having the automated ticketing process and video camera backup," Williams says. Williams also argues courts should be receptive to the TruCAM since more agencies nationwide are using in-car video systems.
Officer Bill Keys of the Ridgecrest (Calif.) Police Department believes the timing for a laser gun that can shoot video of speeders may be just right.
"With the right technology and information, it will get to the point where officers hardly have to testify [when they show video evidence of what took place]," Keys says. "How can you argue with that?"