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Cover Story

Speed Guns

Digital radar, lasers and candid cameras make life hard for traffic scofflaws.

February 01, 2002  |  by Carl Fors

Intersection cameras have proved to be an effective means of promoting traffic safety. They’ve also led to the arrests of car thieves.

Light Speed

The use of lasers in speed enforcement is increasing, the guns are changing and court precedents are being set. (See "Lasers: In the Legal Crosshairs," page 18.)

And while laser speed detection equipment is often more expensive than digital radar, it has many advantages. For example, in metropolitan environments radar is of limited use. Radar is not target specific. Laser is. At 500 feet the infrared, one milliradian, 904 nanometer laser beam diverges to only 18 inches compared to 149 feet for an X band radar gun.

There are four players in the North American law enforcement laser market: Kustom Signals, Laser Technologies Inc. (LTI), Laser Atlanta, and Applied Concepts (Stalker Radar). Kustom Signals and LTI were first in the market, introducing the Kustom Pro Laser and the LTI 20/20 Marksman.

These first guns had many drawbacks. They were bulky, heavy, expensive, and incapable of providing vehicle tracking history. Worse for the officers who used them, they had to be operated outside the vehicle or through an open window. Needless to say, little laser targeting happened at 10 below zero in the middle of a Minnesota winter.

Laser speed guns have since downsized and shed weight and their manufacturers have cut prices. The cost of a laser speed has dipped below $3,000.

More importantly for the cops who use them, lasers are now all-weather speed measurement tools. Kustom Signals was first to offer "inclement weather mode" in the Pro Laser III, which can be fired from inside a warm police cruiser through the windshield. However, LTI now offers a similar technology with "gate short" and "gate long" settings to regulate minimum and maximum speed reporting distances, and Stalker countered with an inclement weather setting on the LZ-1. These settings tell the laser gun's computer to disregard any measurements for approximately the first 200 feet, clearing the windshield and snowflakes/mist in front of the gun.

Along with weather, the potential for jamming is a big concern for laser speed enforcement technology. Laser jammers have entered the market because radar detectors with laser detection features have failed to provide any advanced warning to laser use. Although it is a federal felony to jam or attempt to jam a radar gun, there are no federal sanctions against jamming laser as it is controlled by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. However, some states have passed legislation banning any type of jammer, i.e. California, Utah, Minnesota, Nebraska, Indiana, Virginia.

And of course, the manufacturers are working on jammer-defeating technologies. For example, LTI and Stalker models sense when they are being jammed and display jamming codes for their operators.

Photo Enforcement

Paradise Valley, Arizona, led the nation in utilizing photo enforcement, as one of the first cities to implement photographic red light and speed enforcement. The Phoenix suburb's red light photo system was also the nation's first to label each photo with date, time, and speed. And the result has been a dramatic reduction in traffic fatalities and injuries.

Red light photo systems depend on trip mechanisms, imbedded road sensors, laser beams, etc., that activate when the traffic signal turns red. For example, in Mesa, Arizona, the intersection becomes active three-tenths of a second after the signals have turned to red. If a vehicle passes through the intersection after activation, the cameras click with accompanying illumination strobe, providing front and rear pictures of the vehicle's license plates and occupants.

The system does exactly what it's intended to do, catch people running red lights. But there are also some added bonuses. Mesa PD reports many stolen vehicles have been identified with photographic red light enforcement.

For more information

Applied Concepts Inc.

Decatur Electronics

Kustom Signals Inc.

Laser Atlanta

Laser Technologies Inc.

MPH Industries Inc.

Carl Fors has more than 16 years of experience field testing radar and laser speed detection. He is president of Speed Measurement Laboratories Inc. (, and he can be reached at [email protected]

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