August 11, 2006
CHP officers armed with lidar devices
By Daniel Lopez
Sentinel staff writer
Drivers who like to get on the gas pedal should beware.
Officers of the California Highway Patrol in Santa Cruz County have a new tool to help them more accurately catch speeding motorists than radar.
The hand-held device known as lidar, short for Light Detection and Ranging uses a light beam and creates a smaller range of field for officers to zoom in on cars than radar systems that emit radio waves.
"You can pick out one car in a group of five and pick out that one car," CHP officer Grant Boles said Thursday during a demonstration of lidar along Highway 1 near La Selva.
A scope on the lidar device allows officers at a stationary point to train the infrared light beam on a target up to 4,500 feet away and measure its distance and traveling speed.
A red dot only visible through the scope allows officers to remain trained on a specific car. The light beam from the lidar reflects off the target and sends a reading back to the device.
Though the technology has been available to a number of law enforcement agencies for the past few years lidar only recently became available to the CHP because of funding, Boles said.
Cpl. Mike Ridgway said lidar has been used by traffic officers of the Watsonville Police Department for about five years.
"It's just a great tool and it removes a lot to the variables and questions radar leaves," Ridgway said.
At a distance of 1,000 feet a radar device can read anything in a width of 210 feet, Boles said.
At the same distance, the lidar beam can focus on an area just 3 to 4 feet wide.
"You have pinpoint accuracy with it so without a doubt that's going to be the car," Boles said of lidar. "Before you really couldn't say which car was speeding in a group."
Ridgway said lidar devices are also helpful to officers investigation traffic collisions allowing them to electronically measure distances instead of having to use a tape measure.
"You can just stand on a curb and get your measurements," Ridgway said.
Still lidar is more generally used for speed enforcement.
Boles said drivers can expect to see lidar used during commute traffic, in school zones and other areas with heavy traffic where radar is more difficult to use.
To issue speeding tickets with the use of lidar, CHP officers must complete eight hours of classroom training and do a field exam where they must judge the speed of motorist within 5 miles of their speed with just the naked eye.
An instructor verifies the officers guess with radar or lidar, Boles said.
The Santa Cruz County CHP office has four of the $3,000 devices and one or two officers are certified, Boles said.
The entire staff should be certified on the next few months when scheduling allows and more devices become available, Boles said.
Radar devices mounted in patrol cars that can gauge the speed of cars moving in opposite directions on a road will remain in use, Boles said.
Contact Daniel Lopez at firstname.lastname@example.org