Technology begets technology. This is an adage that is more fitting today than ever before. Take for example the introduction of LIDAR technology. Law enforcement units use LIDAR technology to determine the speed of moving vehicles. This technology is so efficient that all police officers need to do is to point their laser guns towards oncoming traffic. This technology became the impetus for the creation of another technology – laser jammers. The question people have about this technology is, ‘How does it work?’. There’s another more important question: is it legal to use one?
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Defining Laser Jammers
Laser jammers are electronic devices that can prevent police officers from taking accurate readings of a vehicle’s speed. It works on the same principle as radar jamming, except that laser jammers work against light emissions and not radio frequencies. It works against LIDAR or Light Imaging, Detection, and Ranging systems. On the other hand, radar jammers work against radio detection and ranging systems.
It is very important to make this distinction. Law enforcement units can use different methods of determining vehicle speed. You can always install a sophisticated laser jammer on your vehicle. But if the police use another technology, then your laser jammer will be for nothing.
How It Works
To understand how laser jammers work, let’s first understand how LIDAR guns work. LIDAR systems or speed guns emit infrared light at a wavelength of 904 nm. Once this infrared light hits the vehicle, it bounces back to the speed gun. The LIDAR system processes and analyses the difference between the initial light wave and the reflected light wave. The result of this process is the vehicle’s speed.
We know now that LIDAR systems rely on reflected light waves. Vehicles with laser jammers still receive the incoming light wave from the speed gun. However, instead of reflecting the original light wave, the laser jammer sends out a light wave with a higher intensity. The light wave is still of the same wavelength, however. This confuses the onboard computer on the LIDAR gun. This prevents it from making a speed reading.
There are newer models of laser jammers that also detect the pulse rates of the speed gun. The pulse rate refers to the frequency of taking distance measurements by the laser gun. The LIDAR system then makes calculations based on the pulse rate data to produce speed readings. Laser jammers that detect a speed gun’s pulse rate also emulate the LIDAR system’s pulse rate. When combined with its fundamental function, emulating the pulse rate can further confuse the speed gun.
Laser jammers can also work against laser-based speed cameras. These cameras send out invisible light waves onto oncoming vehicles. The laser jammer on the vehicle will send back light wave of the same wavelength but with higher intensity. This confuses the LIDAR camera. Do take note, however, that it doesn’t work on old-school, static speed cameras. These systems use the conventional DTS formula where speed is equivalent to distance over time.
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Legal Status of Laser Jammers
It is safe to assume that laser jammers are illegal. However, the legal status of laser jammers is not that crystal clear.
In general, it is legal to sell or buy and install laser jammers into vehicles. What makes these devices illegal is how individuals use them.
There are many laser devices that can serve legal purposes. For example, laser devices mounted on vehicles can operate garage doors. This eliminates the need for the physical activation of the door. There are also laser devices that serve as parking sensors. Such uses of the technology are legal.
If the technology interferes with the proper functioning of lawful devices, then this technology is illegal. In other words, if it interferes with the normal operation of a speed gun or speed camera, then it’s illegal.
One of the problems today is that vehicle-mounted laser devices can have multiple functions. One of these can be laser jamming. Motorists may be unaware that they are interfering with the normal function of LIDAR systems.
There are federal laws in the US that prohibit the use by drivers of radar jammers. As such, it is illegal to install radar jammers on any vehicle. When it comes to laser jammers, however, it is not clear whether it is legal or illegal. Here’s why.
Radar jamming is under the jurisdiction of the Federal Communications Commission. It has very clear rules about the transmission of radio waves. On the other hand, laser jammers are under the mandate of the US Food and Drug Administration. This is because laser jammers operate on the principle of light emissions.
Several states in the US have taken matters into their hands. These states now have laws that prohibit the use of LIDAR system-jamming technologies. These states include California, Virginia, Colorado, Utah, Illinois, Texas, Minnesota, Tennessee, and South Carolina. The nation’s capital and Nebraska have yet to finalize their decision whether to outlaw the use of laser jammers or not.
As such, only 9 states have very specific laws outlawing laser jammers with the possible inclusion of another and the DC area. This means that 40 states have yet to make a decision whether to outlaw the use of laser jamming technologies or not.
With or without laws, common sense dictates that laser jamming is illegal. Interfering with police mandate is illegal. Speeding beyond the allowable limit is against the law. Law enforcement units use LIDAR systems to make sure every motorist obeys traffic laws. Using laser jammers confuses the LIDAR system which can result in inaccurate measurements of vehicle speed. This is interfering with police duties; hence, it is illegal.
Punishment for Using Laser Jammers
States that have specific laws against the use of laser jammers can punish offenders. For instance, Texas law classifies the use of laser jammers as a Class C Misdemeanor offense. If the defendant is found guilty, the maximum punishment is a $500 fine. There is another provision in the law whereby the defendant can remedy the “defect” before his first appearance in court. If he is able to do that, then he will only pay an administrative fee of $10. By “remedy”, we mean removing the laser jammer.
The punishment may be lighter in states that do not have strict laws regarding the use of LIDAR-blocking technologies. The punishment can be anywhere from points deduction in their driver’s license or the payment of fines.
This is very different from radar jamming laws. Since radar jamming is covered by federal laws, it is a felony crime to use radar jamming technologies to circumvent the law. The punishment for such an offense can be a $75,000 fine together with prison time.
Other Means of Avoiding LIDAR Detection
The use of laser jammers is not the only way that some people can avoid detection for speeding violations.
Some motorists recommend covering the surface of the vehicle with fine dust or any other non-reflective particle. This is to minimize the reflectivity of the surface. We know that LIDAR technology requires that light bounce back to the speed gun. If you can prevent the light from being reflected back to the speed gun, then there should be no speed readings. Non-reflective surfaces provide such a function.
There are also manufacturers of laser-absorbing coatings. Vehicle owners can apply these coatings onto reflective surfaces such as license plates, headlights, and fog lights. These have to be visible to other motorists; hence, non-reflective coatings are not advisable. Laser-absorbing coatings work by absorbing the laser light coming from the LIDAR gun.
A Not-so-Foolproof System
Laser jammers are not foolproof systems. In our opening statement, technology begets technology. Law enforcement units are already aware of the growing number of motorists who use laser jamming technologies. The answer to this is the development of more robust LIDAR technologies with highly-advanced features. It is like the classic spy game. One spy develops a new technique which the opponent spy counters by creating a more sophisticated technique. And the cycle continues.
In other words, both law enforcement agencies and manufacturers will continue to outplay each other. They will come up with systems that can exploit the weaknesses of the other. This is not surprising since LIDAR technology in speed limit enforcement only began at the turn of the new millennia. This means there is still a long way to go before one can say that laser jammers are already foolproof systems.
There is another reason why the laser jammer may not work. Since the device interferes with the normal operation of the LIDAR system, the speed gun will register an “error” message. This alone is enough to arouse suspicion on the part of the law enforcement officer. He may not have the concrete evidence that you are overspeeding, but he has the right to pull you over.
Traffic enforcers today are getting smarter. They already know what other motorists will try to do to avoid getting a speeding ticket.
Laser jammers are very interesting pieces of technology. They are very useful in certain situations. However, if you are going to use them to prevent authorities from enforcing traffic laws, then it becomes illegal.
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