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Using Lasers to Detect Drunk Drivers: The Next Big Thing?

Will the use of lasers to detect drunk drivers be the next big technological advancement in DUI technology? This question has arisen following an article published in the Journal of Applied Remote Sensing that discussed a device that could be used to detect alcohol in cars.

According to the report, titled Stand-off detection of alcohol in car cabins, researchers at the Institute of Optoelectronics at the Military University of Technology in Warsaw, Poland used a newly developed device to detect the presence of alcohol vapors in motor vehicles. The device was created using similar "stand-off" methods used to identify substances, such as explosives or hazardous materials, at a distance. This particular device was created to identify the presence of alcohol in the air.

To test the device, researchers filled the cabin of a car with the same amount of alcohol vapor as would be released by a person with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of .10%. Researchers then shot the laser through the cab, where it then reflected off a mirror located on the other side of the vehicle, traveled back through the vehicle. The reflected light could then be measured to see how much of the original laser beam had been absorbed by alcohol vapors, allowing researchers to determine the amount of alcohol in the vehicle.

The idea behind the device was for it to be deployed by the side of the road where it would monitor cars as they pass by. If the device detected alcohol vapors in the car, it would send an alert to a law enforcement officer waiting some distance up the road. The officer would then be able to pull over the vehicle to determine whether the driver was under the influence of alcohol, using traditional testing methods. A nice thought, to be sure, considering the intense focus on drunk driving prevention, but what about accuracy? What about a driver's rights?

The device cannot distinguish whether the driver or a passenger is the one emitting alcohol vapors, or even if a spilled drink or other source of alcohol explains the presence of such vapors in the vehicle. This means that any number of completely sober drivers could be pulled over simply because they are carrying intoxicated passengers in their vehicles. Another potential issue with the device involves "countermeasures" taken by drivers to lower blood alcohol vapors, by lowering windows or turning on the air conditioner.

Then there is the matter of constitutional rights. In California, an officer must have probable cause to pull a driver over to the side of the road. This means that the officer must have observed erratic driving, a traffic violation or another issue, such as broken taillights or an expired registration. The officer must similarly establish probable cause to arrest a driver for DUI, such as field sobriety test results, statements made by the driver, and the officer's observations of the driver's behavior. If, at some point in the future, laser devices are used to detect the presence of alcohol in vehicles, this brings about potential rights violations and certainly gives rise to questions about whether this should constitute probable cause for a traffic stop.

If devices such as the one researched in Poland are implemented by law enforcement agencies in the U.S., this could open the door to officers pulling drivers over because alcohol was detected in a vehicle, regardless of whether it was actually coming from the driver. It is highly doubtful that such devices would be allowed due to their potential infringement upon drivers' rights.

Looking to learn more about DUI, or driving under the influence? The Law Offices of Virginia L. Landry is committed to representing drivers across Orange County who have been arrested for misdemeanor or felony DUI offenses. We are experienced and driven, fighting to help drivers seek the best possible result to their cases. Contact an Orange County DUI lawyer today to get started.