Studies show that first-time DUI offenders drive drunk an average of 80 times before getting caught. While many communities are committed to preventing and stopping drunk driving, it’s simply not possible for local law enforcement to spot every impaired driver. But jurisdictions could soon get some high-tech help from lasers.
Researchers in Poland recently used a “stand-off detection” system to measure moving cars for the presence of alcohol vapors. The system’s laser goes through a car’s windows to a sensor on the other side of the road and measures the air within the vehicle. Specifically, the device looks for the type of vapor emitted from the lungs when people drink.
The idea is that when alcohol is detected in the car, the device can capture a picture of the car’s license plate and forward that information to a law enforcement officer down the road. The researchers published their article, “Stand-off detection of alcohol in car cabins,” in the May 2014 edition of the Journal of Applied Remote Sensing.
The researchers do note the obvious limitation of the system: It can’t distinguish between vapors created by drivers and passengers, which might cause sober drivers (and designated drivers) to be stopped. Things like air conditioning and solar screens on windows can also interfere with the results.
Is this promising new research? Or just a problematic violation of the rights of designated drivers—or those who drink but are passengers? What about applying this at roadside sobriety checkpoints to triage cars where alcohol is present for further investigation?