Sound Cannons to Be Fired at Drivers

LRAD stands for Long Range Acoustic Device, and it’s a kind of sonic weapon created for breaking up large protests and hailing people at extreme distances.

And now it’s going to be fired at motorists driving at high speeds through construction zones.

Missouri’s Department of Transportation is going to give the device to road workers to warn speeding motors to slow down:

The device emits a targeted, deafening siren that “easily penetrates the windshield and well-insulated cab of a car, even overriding the vehicle’s engine sounds and a radio turned up loud enough to jam to tunes at highway speeds.”

The state has already conducted tests with LRAD, loading it onto the back of a truck and sending out verbal “slow vehicles ahead” warnings to nearby vehicles. But now Missouri has committed to the technology by purchasing two of the pricey devices. Transportation officials claim that they provide an unmistakable alert about slower roadwork vehicles up ahead, and insist LRAD will only be directed at speeding drivers that haven’t yet moved out of work lanes. Still, critics maintain that the ear-piercing nature of the alerts presents a clear danger in and of itself.

LRAD’s sirens can reach up to 153 decibels, more than enough to potentially cause hearing damage. This is technology that’s been deployed in war zones, after all. Missouri’s DOT reportedly insists the tool will only being used at safe levels, but it’s easy to see how motorists could become disoriented and wind up in an accident. The element of surprise is an unwelcome one on the road, and that has many drivers crying foul about Missouri’s plans.

I’m on the fence on this one. Breaking into radio signals with alarms or warnings, or using other sound amplification measures, is nothing new,  but the nature of the technology seems alarming. A sound loud enough to enter a speeding vehicle is going to be pretty disorienting for drivers doing 60 or 70 miles-per-hour.  I’m also unconvinced by the assurances that it won’t be used loud enough to damage hearing. And that’s not even considering the issue of a police/military device being deployed against civilians by road maintenance dudes.