Maryland State Police, in their never-ending search for better ways to nab speeding motorists, may soon start using a laser gun they say is more accurate and less detectable than conventional radar.
The $3,500 hand-held device singles out individual vehicles in a pack, eludes so-called "fuzz buster" radar detectors "and we're ready to roll with it," says Cpl. Michael J. Fischer, a member of a committee evaluating the gun.
If federal or local funding can be found to buy a batch, police will start using the guns "in the near future," Fischer said. He said troopers have been experimenting with the gun throughout the state for two months.
David Williams, a spokesman for Laser Technology in Englewood, Colo., where the gun is manufactured, said laboratory testing on the device should be complete in 35 to 40 days. "Then we'll start selling it," he said. Police in a half-dozen states are looking at it, he said.
Maryland police, concerned about a continuing increase in speeds on major roads that has threatened millions of dollars in federal highway construction funds, initiated a crackdown last March called "Clickit and Ticket." Troopers beefed up radar surveillance and issued thousands of additional tickets to speeders.
Now they may add the laser guns to the arsenal.
The gun consists of an electronic box mounted on a pistol grip with a telescopic sight for targeting vehicles. The officer aims the gun at a suspected speeder and pulls a trigger that emits a narrow beam of light. The beam bounces off the vehicle and returns to the gun, where the time it took to return is translated into the speed of the vehicle.
Williams said the laser beam meets U.S. Food and Drug Administration standards for eye safety. "You can point it in somebody's eyes for a couple of hours at close range and it won't do any harm," he said.
It is similar to radar, except that radar emits radio waves instead of light. Also, radar emits a broader beam, covering two or three lanes of traffic simultaneously, requiring more skill by police in singling out speeders.
The laser gun is "more precise," said Fischer. Also, because it emits light instead of radio waves, he said, it is not detectable by radar detectors used by thousands of motorists in Maryland.
Giffen B. Nickol, Maryland spokesman for the National Motorists Association, which advocates lifting the 55 mile-an-hour limit on rural interstate roads, said the laser guns "are an unnecessary expense."
Many motorists use citizen band radios to warn each other of police speed traps, he said, and can use them just as effectively against laser guns as radar.