By on January 31, 2008

radar1.jpgOn January 2, 1974, President Richard M. Nixon signed the Emergency Highway Energy Conservation Act. A provision of the Act imposed a new, national, 55 mph maximum speed limit. Overnight, the United States had a massive speeding “problem.” Within weeks, the feds gave huge amounts of money to police forces around the country to purchase radar guns. The speeding ticket, always a reliable cash cow for local governments, became a cash herd.

In response, the Fuzzbuster. The first commercial radar detector was a simple receiving unit. It picked up the high power continuous transmission of the early X-band police radar guns and sounded an alarm. Depending on the speed of the Fuzzbuster-equipped motorist, he or she had at least a half to a quarter mile before the signal was strong enough to bounce back to the police and provide a reading. 

Escort tendered the next major advance. The old school black box Escort was a quantum leap in quality: the first superhetrodyne radar receiver commonly available. The Escort’s X-band detection distance was twice that of the Fuzzbuster. Equally important, the Escort also picked-up K-Band radar gun signals, emitted by the cutting edge revenue collection device of the early 80’s. 

Once the police side switched to “instant on” radar guns, the game changed again. Detectors were no longer looking for a strong beam (think a set of xenon headlights shining down a dark highway). They were now trying to detect a child’s flashlight being turned on and off at random, during the day. Since a radar detector is essentially nothing more or less than a scanner, it has to cover the entire band over and over, looking for those wisps of radar. 

To find those tiny wisps of K-band emissions, a device needs some serious microprocessing horsepower. That kind of microwave technology isn't cheap. Radar detector buyers looking for something more than a dashtop ornament that provides a false sense of security must now go to the top of a manufacturer’s line for electronic satisfaction.

Still, many folks held onto their Fuzzbusters, classic black box Escorts and later grey metal Passports. While they’re still great for detecting police radar guns operating on the X and K-band radar signal, they’re blind to the latest Ka-band police technology. I still see these on dashboards in New York Courts every week, in a state where 95 percent of the police radar systems run on the Ka-band.

I’m often asked “why can’t I just buy a radar jammer?” There are two stumbling blocks: money and the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).

Any item which transmits a radio signal falls under the FCC’s purview. To properly jam police radar unit, a jammer needs to receive a signal, “read it” and fire back a signal strong enough to overwhelm the radar gun– or vary the returning signal’s frequency slightly to confuse the police radar gun’s computer. The military has some fantastic devices for fighter planes that do all this, at military price points. 

Even assuming you could create a usable civilian unit, the FCC would frown upon this endeavor in a most emphatic way. If they caught wind of even a single unit, they’d send you a “Notice of Liability” reminding you (with a huge fine) that you’re not allowed to jam any licensed service. (That's why Cell Phone jammers can't be sold in the US.) So back to detectors…

None of today’s radar detector can warn you of an “instant-on” police radar signal if you’re the first one through the trap. A detector is a radio receiver, no more, no less. Ka-band frequencies are tricky to detect. The frequencies used by many police radar guns for Ka-band are on the exact same frequency that some radar detectors transmit.

In traffic, surrounded by other cars, radar detectors are prone to a “Ka-false,” triggered by another radar detector. To keep users sane, detector makers will “notch out” that specific frequency– which is why police radar makers seek to transmit there. The expensive detectors have the computer power to figure out this riddle, which is why the $69 detector is more dangerous than nothing at all.

None of today’s most sophisticated radar detectors can detect all police radar guns all of the time in all situations, and do so with enough alacrity that the driver can check their speed before the police do. A safe driver will always drive only as fast as conditions allow, and use their cranium’s computing power (including memory) to avoid inadvertent speeding.

That said, a high-powered radar detector is a valuable tool for the serious driver with a lot of exposure time. It’s a little extra insurance, but, again, it’s not a free pass. Buy the best detector you can afford, but don’t change your driving style based on the box.

[Casey W. Raskob, Esq. is a NY-based lawyer who runs speedlaw.net]

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35 Comments on “The Insider’s Guide to Speed Enforcement Pt. 2: Radar Detectors...”


  • avatar

    Never used one, but I noticed the signs that they were illegal in VA and MA. Someone told me that radar detectors couldn’t be illegal because they were just radio receivers and you have a right to receive radio signals.

    There’s always some guy telling you that income taxes are not in the constitution and such, so I’ve always been hesitant to believe these sorts of claims.

  • avatar
    qfrog

    While I no longer employ it during my commute I do keep my V1 on and at an audible level when driving through unfamiliar or infrequently traveled territory. The V1 can provide critical informaiton when drivng through some states like VT or NH during low to no traffic hours at a safe yet greater than permissable rate. In other scenarios like driving through certain parts of CT the V1 is practically useless as there are too many false positives to rely on the device’s info as a basis for assessing risk.

  • avatar
    gcmustanglx

    Radar detectors are illegal in Oklahoma. I guess they don’t want to get busted in their speed traps.

  • avatar

    I thought they were only illegal in VA and DC for regular light duty drivers (illegal everywhere for trucks)?

  • avatar
    Matthew Danda

    It has been my understanding that if you get stopped by a cop and you have a radar detector, you will not have a chance of talking your way out of the ticket.

  • avatar

    In my area, at least, detectors are so common, most cops don’t care. Indeed, nowadays there is so much junk on most windows, with cell phones, satnavs, etc that a detector is no longer very noticable.

    They are only illegal in passenger cars (my focus) in DC and VA. Commercial Vehicles cannot have a detector. Still, I have noticed when I play with radar guns on the road, that all the big trucks slow up when I spray microwaves across the pavement…..Hmmmmm…….

  • avatar

    Matthew, I’ve been driving with a detector for most of my life, and have been stopped many many times and been set free with merely a warning in the vast majority of cases. Perception & presentation is everything.

    Mind you I live in the Northwest, where (outside of Seattle) the roads are still relatively uncrowded, and in some places, such as Montana, the roads are essentially empty. Also, unlike the crowded East, our police officers tend to be a reasonable and friendly bunch, who if engaged properly compare quite favorably to say… the entire State of Ohio.

    –chuck
    http://chuck.goolsbee.org

  • avatar
    blautens

    When I was in law enforcement, neither I nor any of my counterparts cared if someone had a radar detector.

    The deputies who worked traffic were going to write a citation no matter what you had on the dash. The deputies inclined to educate/warn drivers were going to do so (if possible) regardless of what you had on the dash.

    But we worked for a very large, busy department – not the Highway Patrol (we used to replace the word Highway with Useless). I suppose if our primary function was to play traffic cop, that might have been different.

  • avatar
    fallout11

    Chris is correct, with the exception of Virginia and Washington DC, radar detectors are legal in all states for normal passenger automobiles. At one time, there were also illegal in CT.
    They are, however, illegal for use in all trucks weighing more than 18,000 pounds in all states (federal law, 1993).

    As for talking your way out of a ticket, the chance of that is slim regardless of whether or not you have a detector. If they pull you over, they have already called the stop in to dispatch, and you’re going to get a ticket.

    One final note – Down in this part of the country, I see a lot of K and Ka units just spraying down the roadway, and visible “traffic calming” presence. Lidar has largely filled the need for “instant on” type responsiveness.

  • avatar
    jazbo123

    This very site reviewed a laser jammer that sounds to be quite effective:

    http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/product-reviews/escort-laser-shifter-zr3-review/

    I fully endorse and appreciate the development and the use of this technology.

  • avatar

    My only complaint is with those communities that use police as a revenue collection agency rather than for safety purposes.

  • avatar
    Cicero

    I’ve driven in California with detectors for years. I’ve been pulled over a few times for speeding and have avoided a ticket in spite of the obvious presence of a detector on my windhshield. I don’t think most cops care one way or the other.

    BTW, I just got a new Passport 9500i — the one with built-in GPS. The detector’s capability to “know” where it is has the potential to be really useful. Now I can teach it to ignore the locations that always set it off — the door openers, speed display signs, etc., which really reduces annoying falsing.

    How much longer will it be before someone combines GPS with 3g or EVDO internet capabilty to provide real-time warnings of the locations of radar traps, particularly along major highways? When these two technologies merge I think drivers will have the ultimate upper hand in the tech war.

  • avatar
    Zarba

    Over the past 20 years, I have used a variety of high-end detectors, and they have consistently saved my bacon.

    I haven’t had a speeding ticket in 15 years. I am a believer in good personal defense. I can’t tell you how many times my detector has allowed me to slow down far in advance of seeing the bogey. I’ve also watched numerous cars blow by me, only to get nabbed.

    I agree with your assessment that a cheap detector is worse than nop detector at all. They primarily just set off other detectors.

    Everyone swears by the Valentine V1. I’ve had very good success with BEL’s high-end models, and currently run an RX-65 Pro.

    As for Laser, I’ve only been able to get a REAL laser alert a few times; generally speaking, if you get an alert, you’ve been clocked.

    My only complaint is that sometimes I’ll get a Remora on my bumper, following me because they see I have a detector.

  • avatar
    fallout11

    I use an Escort 8500i bought several years back after a really lame (68mph on interstate) and expensive ticket incurred while traveling through revenue-strapped Atlanta, and absolutely swear by it. Best money spent on a vehicle accessory ever, and have had zero tickets since while it was in use.

    My experiences pretty much coincide with Zarba’s, except regarding laser warnings. The laser alert has clearly saved my bacon several times now. For instance, just yesterday I was returning on I-75 from a family funeral yesterday (200 miles away) and received a timely laser warning from it….enough time to slow enough not to get nabbed. Was lasered in the fast lane, immediately dropped 8 mph, and was ignored. The sheriff unit waited another minute or so (could still see him in rear view mirror) and then pounced on another unfortunate soul traveling roughly the same speed.

    I have read elsewhere that target lock requires a short delay in heavy traffic (the beam is narrow, and easily jiggled around). Two or three seconds warning can make all the difference…..

  • avatar
    theflyersfan

    First hand experience with Virginia and radar detectors…I had just moved to Arlington but still had my Pennsylvania plate and license. There was also a brand new Passport detector on the windshield of my RSX Type-S. I’m coming out of a bank and lo and behold, there’s an officer waiting for me next to my car. He yells over wondering if this was my car (I think the roommate laughing like a loon at this moment while waiting in the car gave it away) and asked if I knew my Passport was illegal. Playing dumb doesn’t work. I got a ticket (I don’t remember for how much) and while I was able to keep the detector, I only pulled it out as soon as I crossed the Potomac into Maryland.
    Fast forward a couple of years and it was stolen, along with a couple of bucks in loose change, during a break-in. Joy.

  • avatar
    kken71

    I avoid speed traps on the highway by watching for people hitting their brakes for no apparent reason. The more space between you and the “lead” car, the better.

    If traffic is sparse, I keep it within 10 mph of the limit and have no problems breezing through traps.

    If you get caught far from home (last time for me is when the limit dropped by 5mph and I couldn’t bring myself to slow down a bit), find get on the net and find a local attorney in the town where the court is located that looks well established (for example, private attorneys often serve as the Town Attorney for small towns) and see if they can represent you without you attending the hearing.

    The fee will be more than any reduction in your fine, but you will probably avoid any points, which pays off in the long run.

  • avatar
    bunkie

    I have never used a radar detector. Watching the behavior of other drivers (which, incidentally is also good for safety!) and being smart about where the traps are likely to be can be a very effective strategy. I have never gotten a speeding ticket in 35 years of driving various muscle cars, sports cars and sports sedans.

    Oh yeah, not driving too fast (no more than 10 over except in very short bursts) helps as well.

  • avatar
    Matthew Danda

    fallout11:

    You actually sped on I-75 in Georgia? My god, man, that stretch between Atlanta and the Florida border has more highway patrol than regular traffic!

  • avatar
    Matthew Potena

    I have owned a radar detector since the first metal black box Escorts in the early 1980’s. Currently I use an Escort Solo S2. While the detector can no longer pick out every speed trap (as some police use the aforementioned instant on) there is nonetheless the benefit of picking up other drivers as they are targeted by the officer. I will agree with the other posters that even with a detector, one must use their head.
    Funny story…. An old friend on mine used to own an AMC Eagle station wagon. Remember those 4 wheel drive wonder cars? Anyway, he owned a first generation Fuzzbuster. It was half as big as a tissue box, and had only a single large red indicator. It refused to pick up radar unless the officer was standing on the hood of the car aiming the radar gun right at the unit! It did, however, go off whenever the car hit a bump, thus it was christened the “Bump Detector”!

  • avatar
    jazbo123

    ^ I also had one of the original Fuzzbusters. Mine just had a yellowish light. Later on they came out with the same-looking except for woodgrain contact paper Fuzzbuster II that could handle K-band.

    For the nostalgists:

    Fuzzbuster:

    http://www.radarbusters.com/images/radarbusters_skin/assets/support/fuzzbuster.gif

    The radarbusters site also has a lot of good information on detectors and their history. Be advised it is also a detector sales site.

  • avatar
    red dawg

    If a police officer can have and use a radar unit to check my speed then i can and will use a radar detector. It LEVELS the playing field and makes ticket happy cops very unhappy. Anything to bet the cops at their own game is FAIR !!!!!!!!!

  • avatar
    CarnotCycle

    The cops seem to be getting better and better equipment, especially with the Instant On Ka-band radars.

    But that got me thinking, a typical operating fuzzmobile in the USA is a transmitter of all kinds of unique EM emissions.

    They have their proprietary wireless link back to Fuzz HQ with their dashboard computers, they have their radios on all the time, etc. Perhaps rather than just trying to build a radar/laser detector specifically, have a general “fuzz detector” that keys on all those EM signatures.

    The only way cops can hide-out from that kind of detector is to turn all their electronic widgets off – cop without a radio is like a baby without its mother, i.e., relatively helpless. Has anyone ever seen a product that does something like this?

  • avatar
    Cicero

    But that got me thinking, a typical operating fuzzmobile in the USA is a transmitter of all kinds of unique EM emissions.

    It’s too bad donuts don’t give off some kind of detectable emission…

  • avatar
    minion444

    I started with the Original LARGE Escort with the meter, and after a few more, I currently own a V1. I will not drive without it. I commute to Brooklyn form NJ daily and come across many many revenue enhancement zones. I would just rather not destroy my license and wallet with useless tickets. Nor, am I willing to slow down.

  • avatar
    rtz

    I rode to lunch everyday for a year and a half with someone who had a Passport 8500 X50. It worked several times. Daily though, it had plenty of false alarms. Luckily it had some sort of mute button to silence whatever was temporarily setting it off. Something at one location(airport) would always without fail set off the laser detection. Luckily the laser detect part could be turned off within the device(laser is apparently not used in this state).

    His philosophy was the one ticket you didn’t get paid for the device. He sped daily and never got a ticket during that year and a half. So yes, this product does work. Does the 9500 work better? I don’t know.

    I’m cheap and I chance it daily. I’ve never owned a radar detector. How many tickets have I had over the course of my 15 driving years? Some number approaching ten. How many times have I been pulled over though? Some number approaching thirty. Either a written warning or a lengthy discussion concerning the whys and the should nots. But that was all mostly in my younger years. Worth it? Absolutely.

  • avatar
    ZoomZoom

    Even though I’ve driven in Michigan, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Kentucky, Georgia, and Florida, I’ve always felt that I didn’t need to spend the money on radar detectors. The benefit would be minimal in my case.

    Even the best detectors can’t see the cop hiding behind the bridge abutment, in the ditches, or watching you from the top of highway overpasses or entrance/exit ramps. They can’t see the motorcycle cop sitting in wait behind the billboard sign. They can’t see the cop in the unmarked patrol car.

    And radar detectors are completely useless at seeing the “bear in the air.” Every one of those states had or still has traffic enforcement from helicopter or airplane, and that method of detection doesn’t use radar.

  • avatar
    fallout11

    Matthew Danda:
    Your assessment of the Atlanta-to-Florida stretch of I-75 is right on the money (one of the most heavily traveled and heavily patrolled pieces of roadway in the nation). Yet since that is where I live, yes I speed on it very frequently (pretty much anytime I’m on it).
    Apparently, I am far from alone in that. A recent GA D.O.T. survey found that some 85% of Georgians freely admitted to ‘routinely’ speeding on Georgia’s interstates, with over 70% admitting to ‘routinely’ going 10mph or more over the limit.

    A law ignored by most is a useless law.

  • avatar
    GS650G

    It has been my understanding that if you get stopped by a cop and you have a radar detector, you will not have a chance of talking your way out of the ticket.

    With both video and audio recording of the traffic stop, you have no chance of getting out of a ticket anyway. The cop has to explain why he “decided” to let you go.

    Best thing is to use a rabbit. Some poor SOB 4 car lengths in front of you that grabs his brakes and takes one for the team electronically so everyone else gets a pass.

  • avatar
    GS650G

    It’s too bad donuts don’t give off some kind of detectable emission…

    Actually there was a detector that monitored the police radio bands. You didn’t hear their conversations as much as monitored the signal when they keyed the mike. The idea was they would be calling in drivers and you would know where the car was.

  • avatar

    >>>As for talking your way out of a ticket, the chance of that is slim regardless of whether or not you have a detector. If they pull you over, they have already called the stop in to dispatch, and you’re going to get a ticket.

    I’ve been pulled over a couple of times in the last couple of years without being ticketed. But I do everything you’re supposed to do: light up the interior if at night, pull as far off the road as I possibly can, stick my hands where the officer can see them, and that there is nothing in them, etc, and I am absolutely as polite as I can be. One time I had the dog in the front seat, and she immediately started barking. I hung onto her and said, “don’t worry officer, she wouldn’t hurt a flee” (which was true).

  • avatar

    Chuckgoolsbee’s presentation on avoiding tickets is superb. If you haven’t already seen it, take a look. It’s a link in the 7th post in this thread. Thanks Chuck!

  • avatar
    ZoomZoom

    GS650G :

    Best thing is to use a rabbit. Some poor SOB 4 car lengths in front of you that grabs his brakes and takes one for the team electronically so everyone else gets a pass.

    Using a rabbit doesn’t always work! In fact, it almost never works.

    1. Just last week, I saw six motorcycle cops writing tickets, each about a mile apart from the next. End of the month, or anytime a Presidential or Vice-Presidentail visit is nigh, they crack down.

    2. One year, a local cop dressed as Santa and stationed himself on the highway with a radar gun. Right there, standing in the median! If he nabbed one or two or five, he’d just radio the motorcycle guys to go get ‘em all. Yup, some people got busted by Santa Clause.

    3. In Ohio, Indiana, and Georgia, the state police would use multiple patrol cars and/or motorcycles to pull EVERYBODY over, even the ones who weren’t speeding. If you were caught in middle of the speeding pack, you were considered part of the pack.

    4. Legend has it that a single Michigan State trooper will just pull over 6 to 12 cars at once, and walk the line, writing tickets for each driver. Hey, he’s already radioed each license in. If you bolt, your car would be impounded and you would be thrown in jail!

  • avatar
    Gopher

    I ran a Bearfinder then a Cobra and after the third Escort was stolen, back to a Cobra. I got popped one night on a dark two lane farm to market road by a Texas DPS trooper. Back then they would let you sit in the car while they ran your tags and license and he saw the Escort. He ask if I was a professional speeder. I told him it was there to tell me where the Revenue Enhancement Agents were. He told me to get the hell out of his car and have a good night.

  • avatar

    Laser is very hard to hit with a radar detector, if you are worried about laser try the laser pro park which will jam the laser signal, I own it myself pretty neat device but expensive, it will pay for itself eventually though.  

  • avatar
    bruce10

    I have ran a V1 in many states, awesome detector by the way, and have been able to get out of some tickets even still. The only situations they can get me in is if they have their radar turned down real low or off, and then turn it up when they see me coming. This is rare and 19 out of 20 times I have them a mile in advance. It has been my experience that it is always best to fight a ticket even if you were totally guilty. Pay the fine immediately same day. Even if you go into the court and ask for a plea bargain based on the fact that you will promise to slow down when going through that particular state or community and could they please accept the fine and forgive the points. In every moving violation I have ever had, this argument has worked to some degree. Go in dressed nice and be very mannerly, as in Good afternoon and yes sir or ma’am or your honor. Most judges are WAY WAY nicer than cops and certainly more understanding. Good luck.
    If you would like to ask me for advice you can email papagronk@yahoo.com. Happy trails.


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