Scientists Developing Laser That Can Detect Alcohol in Cars

By Paul Gaita 06/11/14

Though still in the experimentation phase, the lasers can potentially detect alcohol vapors.

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Research has begun in Poland on the construction of an external laser device that can detect the presence of alcohol vapors in moving cars.

An article in the Journal of Applied Remote Sensing summarized the experiment, conducted by scientists with the Military University of Technology in Warsaw, Poland who applied stand-off detection – a chemical and biological identification method that uses a laser to detect a variety of items, from explosives to biological signatures without incurring harm to the subject or nearby individuals – to determine if a motorist has been drinking.

If the laser picks up the presence of alcohol vapors in a car, a message with a photo of the car and its license plate is forwarded to officers in a police vehicle located down the road from the laser site. The officers then stop the car in question and test the driver for intoxication using more traditional methods.

Researchers monitored the device, which was positioned near an open window inside a laboratory, as it was tested on a moving car deployed on a nearby road. They were able to detect a simulation of alcohol vapor in a human lung by evaporating a concentrated water solution of alcohol heated to body temperature, and noted that external factors such as driving with open car windows would not affect the test’s results and could, in fact, be reported to the officer receiving the message and photograph.

However, the authors also noted that the impact of air conditioning or fans on the test results, as well as the size and relative challenge in operating the system, remain hurdles to be faced by the next stages of the project.

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Paul Gaita lives in Los Angeles. He has contributed to the Los Angeles Times, Variety, LA Weekly, and The Los Angeles Beat, among many other publications and websites.