Lidar also is recognized by working police officers and traffic courts as a superior tool in targeting speeders. Officer Dan Hackett of the Paso Robles (California) Police Department has noticed a difference in how magistrates respond to testimony when they know the violator was captured on lidar. "Judges ask very few questions once they know I was using lidar," says Hackett. "They know how accurate it is, and it pretty much takes away the 'It wasn't me!' argument defendants try to raise."
Hackett has been using lidar for more than a year now. The Paso Robles PD received this new speed enforcement equipment as part of a California Office of Traffic Safety grant to address speed problems in their community. It has been especially effective in Hackett's assignment as a motorcycle officer. "We have particularly congested school zones in our city, and the lidar is much more accurate for shooting targets on crowded roadways," he notes.
Hackett also advocates that lidar is a good speed prevention measure. "When I'm working the lidar, it's no secret," he says. "I'm right out in traffic or parked visibly at the side of the road reading targets from my motorcycle. I'm more successful at catching violators, and the high visibility is a great deterrent to others passing by."
Although highly accurate, lidar still has its limitations. According to Bob Godsey, product manager for Kustom Signals, located in Lenexa, Kansas, lidar should augment other speed enforcement tools. Lidar benefits an officer under specific conditions, and it is an especially useful tool for motor cops. A highway patrol officer or a regular beat cop who works traffic enforcement from a car will more than likely choose a standard radar unit over lidar — and for good reasons. Lidar is a handheld device that has no "moving mode." "It all depends on the way you're doing your speed enforcement," Godsey says. "Radar will shoot further than lidar, up to 1 1/2 miles on a long open stretch of road. Because of the cone-shaped pattern of the radar waves, an officer parked at the side of the road can capture speed data from vehicles in both lanes and both directions." And of course, the ability to catch speeders in oncoming traffic when the radar is in "moving mode" is a huge benefit. Where some city police have trouble are those tight, congested areas where radar starts becoming ineffective as targets are more difficult to pinpoint. In those cases, partnering officers with a lidar unit in addition to other speed enforcement tools can be a real plus.
Officers are finding creative ways to address other traffic safety issues with lidar technology. In Colorado, state troopers use lidar to measure vehicle speed, but also to determine distance between vehicles when they suspect a car is following too closely. The troopers work in pairs to catch offenders; one is stationary, operating the lidar. When he gets a reading, the officer radios to his partner the speed of the lead vehicle and the distance the secondary vehicle is following behind. Troopers were targeting vehicles with less than a second between them at speeds of 75 mph.
The best evidence is direct evidence, and it doesn't get much better than a picture. As technology continues to advance, lidar providers are scrambling to bring new features to market. The latest and greatest include the option to combine speed detection with digital photo evidence. At the time the lidar unit captures the speed violation, a digital picture of the evidence also is recorded. The image is displayed showing the vehicle, its speed, the lidar's target reticle and a time stamp of the infraction. The date, location, officer's name and other information can be added with a laptop. Photo evidence may be printed at the traffic enforcement site, or it can be downloaded, archived back at the office later for viewing, printing and more. In cases where violators are confronted with photo evidence at the scene of the infraction, Fors says, "the plead-guilty rates approach 100 percent."
Another popular change has been a reduction in the size of laser enforcement tools. Some units have become so small they are likened to a pair of binoculars that can get a reading through the windshield of a patrol car.
Depending on the model purchased, with a few optional accessories, lidar also can be an excellent tool for accident investigation.