Are you a notorious tailgater? If so and you’re driving in Riley County, Kan., police may be targeting you — literally.

The Riley County Police Department (RCPD) has been using a laser measuring device, called TruCAM, to keep tabs on the distance between cars since August. The technology, which looks and functions like a speed gun, allows officers to capture the length and time between two vehicles on the open road, taking video and photographic evidence of the situation.

If a person is driving too close to the car in front of him, police officers stop the individual, show TruCAM video of the violation and issue a citation.

Here’s how it works: An officer looking to determine the time and distance between two cars targets the laser at the first car, then pulls the trigger and the device automatically computes the vehicle’s information. The process is repeated for the second car and the device instantly does the math to display the distance between the two in both time and feet.

In order to calculate speed, the mode can be switched from distance to speed at the touch of a button. The video, while not high definition, is high quality and can be displayed onscreen in a courtroom when the need arises.

“It’s literally ‘put red dot on car and pull trigger’ and you start getting results back,” said Dan Bortnick, an officer with the RCPD. “These laser guns are the most user-friendly things cops have seen in quite some time.”

The information, video and photos are stored on a secure digital (SD) card inside the TruCAM device, and at the end of the day, the data is taken back to the department and transferred to a software program for storage.

The data also is stored in the RCPD’s own video archiving program so the department can maintain a chain of custody for the court system if a violator chooses to fight a charge in court.

Back Off!

While following too closely may seem nitpicky to some, the issue of following too close is a problem in the area. According to Riley County police, in a three-year span, 192 traffic accidents occurred on K-18 highway between Manhattan and Ogden, Kan., a majority of them involving rear-end collisions.

Bortnick said that while Kansas state law doesn’t have a bright rule of what constitutes driving too close, the driver’s license handbook in Kansas says that two seconds between vehicles is the minimum safe following distance in normal driving conditions. Four seconds is recommended during adverse weather.

“If we get two cars at 65 mph and the following car is behind the lead car at less than half a second … in any sort of unstable incident you’re going to have a wreck,” Bortnick said. “Nine times out of 10 there’s just no avoiding it.”

While no one has challenged a ticket when TruCAM was used to pinpoint the distance and time between vehicles yet — a fact Bortnick attributed to the video playback that violators are shown when pulled over — local judges seem prepared to hold up the rule in court.

“We’ve approached the courts and judges with the two-second rule and they seem to be very comfortable with it,” Bortnick explained. “If its not 2 a.m. and there’s no traffic on the road, they don’t really like to see that stuff. But any time there is any sort of traffic on the road and high flow times then they are all for that two seconds and anything under it, they’ve said they are willing to support it.”

Investment Justified?

Developed by Laser Technology Inc., the TruCAM model that the RCPD purchased was $6,500. When asked if the device has had a significant impact on the number of following-too-close violations, Bortnick said the jury was still out, primarily due to a construction project on the highway where TruCAM is used most frequently.

He said there has been a decrease in crashes, but it’s likely a result of the natural slow-down that occurs when vehicles travel through a construction area.

That fact aside, however, Bortnick felt that time would prove the device’s effectiveness. He recalled over the past few months hearing people talk about how police are stopping drivers for following too close and said TruCAM is bringing up the awareness level about the issue to the community.

“Part of the justification for purchasing the unit was the amount of following too closely crashes that we had not only in that stretch of highway, but throughout town and the jurisdiction,” Bortnick said. “I would imagine it would take another traffic study … to come up with good statistics [and] for that you are talking at upwards of more than a year to cull those statistics.”

Brian Heaton  |  Senior Writer

Brian Heaton is a senior writer for Government Technology. He primarily covers technology legislation and IT policy issues. Brian started his journalism career in 1999, covering sports and fitness for two trade publications based in Long Island, N.Y. He's also a member of the Professional Bowlers Association, and competes in regional tournaments throughout Northern California and Nevada.