Radar Detectors

Category: Gadgets

I just got a speeding ticket, and now I'm wishing I had a radar detector. But there are so many different kinds and price ranges. How do radar detectors work, and which one should I buy?

radar gun

What is a Radar Detector?


A radar detector is a device that scans for police radar signals and then alerts you to their presence. Radar guns actually send out radio waves, on specific frequencies that are prescribed by the FCC. These radar/radio signals are referred to as X band, K band, Ka band, and Ku band. (The Ku band is used only in European countries.) Because radar signals propagate in a wave that gets larger as it moves outward, and because they bounce off of other objects, they can often be detected from over a mile away, giving you ample time to adjust your speed.

In addition to radar signals, some police cars are equipped with more advanced laser (lidar) devices. A lidar device sends out narrow beams of laser light, usually directed at a car's license plate, grill or lights. The laser is reflected back to the lidar unit and the speed of the targetted car is calculated in under a second.

A good quality radar detector will identify all frequencies of police radar (X, K, and Ka band) at distances that are great enough to allow you to slow down before your speed is detected by police radar. A high-end radar detector will also detect laser (lidar) devices used by the police. Unfortunately though, if your detector picks up a laser signal, it's probably too late to slow down and avoid detection if you're speeding.

There are some add-on products that can increase your protection against lasers, such as the Laser Shield (an anti-laser license plate cover) and Laser Veil (an anti-reflective coating for headlights, fog lights and license plate). These products can reduce the effective range of the police laser gun, giving you 5-10 seconds to reduce your speed. For maximum laser defense, you can use a laser jamming or laser shifting device, which is designed to block laser signals before they hit your car.

Which Radar Detector is Best?

There are several radar detector vendors that make quality products. Beltronics, Escort, PNI, Valentine, Whistler and Cobra all have offerings, but a quick scan of the available products will show that prices range from $99 to over $300, and the critical features can be hard to discern due to the technical jargon used in the descriptions of the various products. Having recently purchased a radar detector, here is my layman's advice...

Don't buy a cheap radar detector. If the model you pick saves you $200 on the purchase price, but fails to protect you on the road, then you haven't saved money at all. The cost of getting a speeding ticket (fines, lost time, and increased insurance premiums) can mount up to $800, $1000 or even higher. My recommendation is to purchase a high-end model that has a complete feature set, excellent reviews and a price tag somewhere around $300.

radar gun
My choice after quite a bit of research was the Bel Professional Series RX65 Radar Detector from Beltronics. At just over $300, the RX65 provides advanced radar detection, supporting X, K, Ka, Ku and the new POP mode radar, as well as 360-degree laser protection. The AutoScan feature eliminates most false alarms, and VG-2 Stealth technology makes the unit invisible to "radar detector detectors" used by police. The RX65 has an alphanumeric display with brightness control, and over 60 programmable voice messages for easy recognition of alerts. You probably won't find this advanced model in big electronics stores, but you can buy it online or at a local auto accessory shop.

The Escort Passport 8500 X50 and the Escort Solo S2 Cordless are also popular models in the same price range.

Do I Need Laser Protection?

Not all police use lasers along with radar detection. My advice is to buy a model that includes laser detection, and use it for a few weeks on the roads you travel most. If you DO pick up laser signals in areas where you frequently travel, you can purchase Laser Veil Stealth Coating and the Laser Shield Anti-Laser License Plate Cover for about $100 extra.

radar gun
If you have money to burn, and want to absolute best in laser protection system, consider the Bel LaserPro 905 Laser Defense System which integrates into high-end Bel models (including the RX65), or the Escort Shifter ZR3 Laser Jammer which works with the Escort units mentioned earlier. These laser-jamming devices will cost about $500 extra.

Learn More About Radar Detectors

You can learn a lot about radar detectors, laser detectors, related products and technology online. I recommend the Buy Radar Detectors site because they have lots of free reference material about radar detectors, speed traps, and what to do if you get a speeding ticket. And as the name implies, you can also buy radar detectors at their online store. I have no affiliation with Buy Radar Detectors, and I don't benefit in any way if you buy a radar detector from them. I did purchase mine there, and was very happy with the customer service as well as the product. Another site I found useful was RadarTest.com, which offers comparisons, reviews and reports.

 
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Posted by on 28 Apr 2006


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Most recent comments on "Radar Detectors"

(See all 23 comments for this article.)

Posted by:

Matt Volk
04 May 2006

Car & Driver has occasional radar detector comparisons. Valentine One has won every comparison since they introduced their detector. Their detector has cool arrows that tell you where the radar signal is coming from.


Posted by:

Ron
04 May 2006

Note that some states ban radar detectors. I suppose that this has been held as consttutional by federal courts. This raises my hackles! I also suppose they can confiscate the detector if they see it. I am currently on a trip in Virginia, and I saw a sign.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Correct, they are illegal in Washington D.C. and Virginia.


Posted by:

Mike Chasin
04 May 2006

Dont know what the law is now, But a few years ago I read that having or using radar detectors is illegal in some states. Before you start looking for which detector to use, find out if you are letting yourself in for more legal trouble by using one. The one I had in those early years went off every time I got near a fast food place or a business with automatic doors.

EDITOR'S NOTE: As mentioned earlier, they are legal in all states EXCEPT Washington D.C. and Virginia.


Posted by:

Wes
04 May 2006

I'm a cop, I have never ever issued a speeding ticket to generate revenue? Speed kills on municipal streets as much as highways. The solution to being caught breaking the law is NOT to break another law. They are illegal in most states. You really should be ashamed. Besides, the price of one of those would pay for a couple of tickets, that is if your too dense to slow down.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Hmmm.... there are SEVERAL items in your note make me shake my head in wonder. First, any cop would be aware that speeding tickets are big business -- over a BILLION dollars a year. Houston for example raked in $45 million last year. And radar detectors are not "illegal in most states" -- just the OPPOSITE is true! They are legal in all but two states. And the price of the average speeding ticket: about $800 including fines, lost work time, and insurance hikes over the next 3-5 years.

Have you never driven through an area with an artificially low speed limit -- clear visibility, few houses, the type of area that would normally have a speed limit of 45, but for some reason it's only 30? That's what I mean by "revenue traps" and believe me they're no accident.


Posted by:

Jeff Borland
04 May 2006

I second the Valentine One. It picks up older style radar bands far better than any of the other major detectors, plus it tracks multiple sources and the directions they are coming from. This is very helpful - for instance, if it displays three, and only the arrow ahead is lit, you know all three sources are in front of you. As you pass one, the front and side arrows light up, and after you are past, the rear arrow also lights up. You know you still have two sources in front of you. Other detectors will just keep going off, and you won't know as you pass cop one that there are two more in front.


Posted by:

Gary
04 May 2006

Radar detectors are little use against "instant-on" guns. Once the officer pulls the trigger and you hear the warning, it's too late. I threw my detector out after receiving a ticket this way on I-10 outside San Antonio in 1993.

I don't want to sound holier than thou, but since I started (mostly) obeying limits, I drive with no fear or paranoia. Try it, it's relaxing, and you get there almost as quickly using less gas.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Since getting a radar detector, I actually drive safer and slower. It helps me focus on my speed and driving. But I think you'll find the technology has advanced quite a bit in 13 years. Of course there are situations where a detector will NOT help, but for those times when you're not paying attention and going a little too fast, they can wonderful.


Posted by:

John B
04 May 2006

There are some states, such as Indiana. That if you get pulled over for a few miles an hour over the limit and the officer was intending to write a warning. You automatically get a ticket if the officer sees a Radar Detector. Dosen't matter if it's on or not.


Posted by:

Richard Bragg
04 May 2006

Here in the UK these detectors are not illegal but materials that can hamper reading numberplates and the like probably are.

I have never had a ticket and hope I never do, I don't speed and the police have a general guideline to allow 10% + 2mph to account for accuracy of both your speedo and their equipment.

The latest thing here is a system that detects your number plate on entry to a "zone" and on exit then works out your average speed. Provided some allowance is still made this is far better than an instantaneous reading that may over as geography means you'd tend to float high a tad.

EDITOR'S NOTE: I used to wonder why they didn't do this on toll highways here with the EZ-Pass tags. Calculate your average speed over the course you travelled, and hand you a ticket at the exit. But if they did that, nobody would use the EZ-Pass, because EZ-Pass saves the state lots of money. Again, it comes down to economics.


Posted by:

JA Miles
04 May 2006

Additionally, (Not from personal experience, mind you!) detectors are subject to confiscation by police agencies in Virginia (where I happen to work). Even if your "just passing through". Anecdotally, I've heard that they may not be exactly in working order upon the return to the owner. I'm not sure how you can get them back if they are considered contraband material, but if the “stories” are true you apparently can. I've not heard any such confiscation or return stories about DC, but they are illegal there as stated by the editor.


Posted by:

Donna
04 May 2006

The underlying issue at hand is just this: Why would you need a radar detector if you were not intentionally exceeding the speed limit in the first place!

EDITOR'S NOTE: Shouldn't the answer be obvious? It's for those times when you are UNintentionally exceeding the speed limit. I travel a LOT on highways, and have never gotten a ticket on a highway. But over the years, I've gotten a few tickets on local roads. The more you drive, the more likely you are to find yourself doing 40 in a 30 zone, and see red lights flashing in your rear-view mirror.


Posted by:

Paul
04 May 2006

Detectors and jammers are illegal in Ontario Canada. WRT tickets within municipal limits, jurisdictions around mine will usually reduce a first offense to a non-moving violation, but you have to show up in person. Also true for Mississuaga Ontario.


Posted by:

Sandy
04 May 2006

Before purchasing a radar detector, you should check your automotive insurance policy. I have State Farm Insurance (in Colorado) and they reserve the right to revoke your policy if you are using a radar detector. Their reasoning is that buy owning/uisng a radar detector, you are intending to break the law. If you are intending to break the law, they (the insurance company) does not have to insure you.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Yes, some insurance companies will refuse coverage if you have a radar detector. But oh, the irony... they donate radar and laser guns to the police all the time, hoping to increase the number of speeding tickets and justify raising the rates of their customers.

You can argue that they do it to help the police catch bad drivers, but that rings hollow to me.


Posted by:

Fred Roller
04 May 2006

You are doing a dis-service by advising people to use jamming devices, unless you are Federally licensed, these are illegal and you could face a Federal charge from the FCC. As for the "anti-reflective" devices, they are also illegal, at least in Wisconsin. (Anything that covers lights or license plates.)

As a retired traffic cop of 29 years, I have found that most of the speeders I stopped had radar detectors and they automatically got citations because the detector shows an "intent" to break the law. Many of the violators thought they were protected by the detector and drove at much faster speeds thereby considerably reducing their reaction time to slow down. I have never come across a radar detector able to live up to it's advertising hype that I wasn't able to get a good clocking on in numerous tests. Any good traffic cop worth his salt will still be able to clock any type of detector. They are just a waste of money.

My favorite tool was a speed computer called VASCAR. It was a visual determination of the average speed between two points timed by a clock down to 1/10'000th of a second. It doesn't broadcast a signal, therefore, can't be detected. In the words of one Judge to a defendant - "you know, there is no defense against this."


Posted by:

dhascall
04 May 2006

Why do you need radar? Coopertown, TN! They recently made the news because the Mayor (Boss Hogg?)refused a check that a speeder had written "For Speed Trap" in the memo field. This little town gets 30%+ of it's revenue thru speeding tickets. They change the speed limits weekly just to catch speeders. They have been hiring more and more cops (Roscoe P. Coltrane, Enos and Deputy Fife?) just to increase revenues. New Rome, Ohio was disolved by the state for getting ALL of their revenues this way. The "town" of 23 had 8 police officers. Vandalia, Mo. lost their police charter for the same thing.

Wes, do they let you have the bullet in your gun or only in your shirt pocket?


Posted by:

dhascall
04 May 2006

Fred Roller: VASCAR isn't foolproof. It's a "guestimation" device. I am "guessing" that car is crossing that bridge span now, etc.... They can be off by 10 miles per hour if the officers' depth of field is not perfect, or if the officer speeds up or slows down.


Posted by:

R J
04 May 2006

My father was a truck driver for many years and when the BIG black box became popular, "otherwise known as the FUZZBUSTER" all the truckers had em. It had 1 big red gem that went off when you were hit, sometimes it worked.. sometimes it didnt.As I got older and technology progressed so did the radar guns and the like so the results stayed the same. One thing I think people should keep in mind, if your flying down the road and your detector goes off, your still speeding until you reach the speed limit and by that point the officer may have your speed, a speed verse detection distance issue. In my state of Ohio there trying to push cameras and anti reflective products are illegal. Anymore I get a kick out of watching my father laugh when his NEW detector goes off with a local retail store door signal device sets off a signal in which the detectors of TODAY will catch. Wonder if retail stores know this to make you slow down in front off them, interesting advertising ? BTW Officers have to be liscenced in states to do traffic, they go to school to use the "guns", and radar detector tricks are taught. :-)


Posted by:

Jim
04 May 2006

Lively discussion. I think I'm the only guy on the Eastern Seaboard who obeys the speed limit, whether the road be highway or local/rural. I agree with the comment above that it's much more relaxing and just as effecient time wise, it's also obviously safer.

I keep to the right (unless passing a true slow poke) and use my cruise control whenever possible.

That said, I too have gotten speeding tickets. It's maddening when it happens, especially knowing that 95% of the other drivers on the road are all passing me. Revenue? You bet you're bippy !! (The Police must think we're all stupid.)

I'm not sure that radar detectors are the answer though, and speed averaging (as described above) smacks a bit too much of Big Brother for my tastes. I suppose the bottom line is; if you drive a vehicle, sooner or later the man is gonna getcha.. It's just part of the cost of doing business.


Posted by:

MF
04 May 2006

I drive over the limit a lot, and I've had radar detectors since they came on the market. Since most of my driving is in a major metro area, I've found that over the years I've had excellent results with relatively inexpensive radar detectors. Frankly, I can't remember a single time that my radar detector didn't save me from a ticket. My current detector is maybe 5 or more years old, and cost less than $50. It does have all three bands, and it seems to be giving me 360 degree protection. So, in my driving area, a cheap detector does the job. If I did a lot of cross country driving, I might feel different. And since I drive a Corvette, and have been for many years, and haven't had a speeding ticket in maybe 10 years, I'm happy with a cheaper device.


Posted by:

Bill Duffy
04 May 2006

Here's another reason why radar detectors are a good idea... On most superhighways the speed limit is 65, but if you travel at 65, you'll get run over. People generally go about 75 -- right past the cops with radar guns -- and the cops don't even care. Except for that once in a while, when they have to make their quota (oops, I mean "performance goal") and they'll zap you for going 68. Radar detection gives you the chance to slow down from 75 to 65 in a few seconds and avoid the off-chance that the officer is having a bad day.


Posted by:

Jim
04 May 2006

I forgot to mention, in my previous utterance above, that if Law Enforcement was really interested in enforcing the speed limits, the Police could easily have a field day.

If the posted speed is 65MPH, most people (at least where I live - S.E. Pennsylvania) will do 75, or even 85. Catching speeders would be like shooting fish in a barrel. But the police DO NOT enforce speed restrictions, and the result is that everyone speeds. "Enforcement" (for want of a better term) is completely random and arbitrary. Result? Speed laws are not respected, and neither are those charged with enforcing them.

At the other end of the spectrum, the street I live on is posted as a 25MPH zone, but because it's a through street, most drivers feel they have the right to do 40. Since a large portion of it is downhill in one direction, I have to keep my foot on the brake for over a mile to keep it under 30. I have had impatient drivers behind me cross a double yellow line in order to pass me. Now, 30 or 35MPH would be a more reasonable speed for this particular street but the local cops use it near the end of almost every month as a sort of combination 'speed trap/revenue generator', and since I must use the road several times each day, I pay attention to the posted speed for the obvious reasons.

If the Police want the respect of those of us who pay their salaries, then they need to set reasonable speed limits and then enforce those limits. If they did so, at the end of the day, the revenue stream would likely remain unchanged, they would have our respect, we'd all have safer streets and highways, and Radar detectors would not be necessary.


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Article information: AskBobRankin -- Radar Detectors (Posted: 28 Apr 2006)
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