Radar Detectors

Why should you have a detector? Simple. Today's speed limits are unreasonably low. It is no coindicence that the sale of citizen's band radios exploded in 1975 - the 55 mph National Maximum Speed Limit was enacted only 1 year before and drivers needed a way to find out where the speed traps were. Later, the technology advanced enough to allow actual radar frequency receivers (radar detectors). In the ensuing 15-20 years, we've seen a cat-and-mouse game between cops and motorists. Cops are hiding behind bushes, in an alley between two buildings, or behind a bridge abutment with the sole purpose of taking radar potshots at unsuspecting motorists, all while ignoring more important duties such as catching criminals. Motorists are defending themselves against this revenue enhancement by buying top-dollar detectors, not signalling lane changes to avoid being noticed (a blinking light attracts attention), using "drone" vehicles (vehicles driving at the same speed but ¼ or so mile ahead) - let them get the ticket or set off the cops' radar, etc. Is it any wonder there's an "us versus them" attitude with most highway patrol officers today?

The insurance companies are a large part of this problem. They say that lower speed limits save lives. That's patently false. The reason they support lower speed limits is they know that people will ignore them, so when they get a speeding ticket the insurance company can give the driver a considerable increase in his insurance. If the purpose of insurance is to cover unusual risk, then nearly every speeding ticket surcharge they issue is pure profit since the act of exceeding an unreasonably low speed limit is hardly unusual. Some insurance companies take those profits and buy radar/laser guns to give away free to police! The police, always cash-strapped, gladly accept these so that they can go out and "take back the highways". The insurance companies will issue enough speeding ticket surcharges to cover the cost of the units in less than one year. (A radar unit goes for about $1,200, lasers, $3,800.) These devices will continue their revenue-enhancing duties for another 3-5 years. Not a bad profit from a legal product. How many other businesses can manipulate their profits in such a manner?

The US government isn't totally free of guilt either. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) occasionally grants states hundreds of thousands of dollars to purchase radar and laser units, VASCAR computers, airplanes, etc., as well as to pay for the officers' overtime salary so they can perform "saturation enforcement" of the speed limit on particular roads. NHTSA gave the Connecticut State Police $750,000 earlier this year to do just that on their 55 mph Interstates. Over the Memorial Day weekend, they wrote more speeding tickets than the previous year, but had a 67% rise in accidents as well. What's wrong with this picture?

Do you still wonder why you should have a radar detector? The $150 or so you'd spend on one is considerably cheaper than insurance surcharges (which can linger for 3 years) and points on your license.

Detectors are legal in all states except Virginia and the District of Columbia. They're legal in the following Canadian provinces as well: Alberta, British Columbia, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Saskatchewan. On US military bases, they are legal to have but illegal to use.

Most of us who have radar detectors don't know how to use them properly and end up getting caught - exactly the opposite of what you wanted, especially since you have a detector.

Some tips on using a detector:

  1. Always remember this: Cops will not give owners of detectors a warning - you will get a speeding ticket. So, all of your actions with a detector must be centered on this fact.
  2. Mount it high up on the windshield. The higher it is, the more able it is to sniff out signals.
  3. Learn it's sounds. Most detectors have different noises for different threats. These types are preferred; you don't need to take your eyes off of the road to find out if it's X-band "noise" from automatic door openers, or K-band police radar.
  4. Always use it. It makes no sense to use it "only on long trips" or "only on vacations" or whatever. Are those the only times you are a candidate for a ticket? Not likely!
  5. For instant-on radar: Unless you're going well over the speed limit, never stand on the brakes when the detector goes off! Just act as if nothing happened and your chances of escaping unscathed increase considerably. Your brake lights or front-end dive are an instant admission of guilt and it lets the officer doing the speed trap know that you have a detector. After all, why did you stop so quickly when there was no obvious reason to do so? (See #1)
  6. For nighttime operation, sometimes it's necessary to cover all of the detector's LEDs and rely only on the audio alarm. Some have a "dark" switch that does that for you, these are preferred. These LEDs are not real bright even at night, but even the single "power on" LED is very easy to see from a distance at night in a dark car. This is a tip-off to the police cruiser that may be trailing you. (See #1)
Note to cops: For those of us that obey rule #4, we know when you're watching. Say you spray our car with radar when we're going 10 over the limit. If you don't stop us, you have made that speed limit invalid because we know you know our speed and you didn't bother to do anything about it.

Note to detector makers: Would you please make your detectors with three settings for X-band? Two you already have: normal and "city". Add an OFF switch for those of us who spend most of our time driving near shopping malls or in Connecticut with their X-band traffic monitoring system.

Author: Bob Morrow. Also check out the National Motorists Associaiton home page and the Reasonable Drivers Unanimous home page if you haven't already.

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