Passing a police officer with a speed camera and knowing that you were going over the speed limit is a daunting feeling.
You spend your days waiting for your fine to arrive through the post and depending on the speed that you were driving at, you may also be facing points on your license. Luckily for us, today there is such a device called a radar detector.
These devices are awesome if you know you have a bit of a need for speed and find it difficult to stick to the speed limit in your area. That said, choosing the right one can be challenging.
In this guide, we’re going to tell you what a radar detector is and when they were first invented. We’ll also tell you how these intelligent devices work and highlight the various types available to choose from.
We’ll tell you about the different features radar detectors have to offer and share some of the various types of speed control measures law enforcements across the world now use to catch speeding drivers.
Not only this, we’ll go into some of the legalities that come with these smart machines while also sharing some of the most reputable manufacturers in the industry today. Lastly, we’ll tell you how to take care of your radar detector so that it sticks with you for the foreseeable future.
So, without further ado, let’s get started.
What Is A Radar Detector?
A radar detector is a legal device that any driver can keep in his or her car. These detectors are great for telling you whether or not there is a police or other law enforcement officer monitoring your speed ahead.
These electronic devices tell you when someone is monitoring your speed in order for you to slow down before going through a speed trap and getting a ticket, or worse, points on your license.
It is worth mentioning that not all speed monitoring devices can be detected. For example, Doppler radar-based detectors can be detected by a radar detector whereas others such those using piezo sensors, ANPR, and VASCAR technology cannot.
The History Of Radar Detectors
Radar detectors have been a work in progress for years. Classical experiments on electromagnetic radiation are said to have started all the way back in the 1880’s, however, this technology progressed significantly all the way through until 1930.
In the early 30’s, these electronic devices were used to detect aircrafts by the military. The mechanism continued to play a significant role throughout World War II.
By the end of the 40’s, the tracking radar and the moving target indication radar were created, allowing everyone from the Royal Navy to the GEMA, and the United States Navy to detect enemies on the horizon.
Through until the 70’s new strides were made leading to the creation of the Doppler radar. Later, in the 80’s reflectivity radars were invented by weather services across the globe, most notably, the United States.
Above all, the technology behind radar, best known for detecting speed, was developed in 1954. Now, this technology is used widely across the world by consumers and is part of a billion-dollar industry.
How Does A Radar Detector Work?
Police radars, or speed detectors, use the Doppler effect to measure the speed at which a car or other vehicle is passing. The Doppler radar beams a radio wave at the car which in turn measures the expected change in frequency of the reflected wave.
Radar detectors use something called a superheterodyne receiver to detect the electromagnetic emissions of a speed monitoring devices . A radar detector hones in on the band signal coming from a speed trap and alerts the driver through a visual or auditory signal.
There are four different bands in which radar detectors operate, all of which have different frequency ranges. These include X Band from 10.5 to 10.55 GHz, Ku Band which is from 12 to 18 GHz, K Band 24.05 to 24.24 GHz, and Ka-Band from 34.2 to 35.2 GHz.
The most commonly used bands in the U.S. include K, X, and Ka-Band.
The Different Types Of Radar Detectors
Ultimately, there are now three different types of radar detectors, all of which come from various manufacturers with a huge variety of additional features depending on the one you choose. Here is an outline of each as well as some of their pros and cons:
Corded Radar Detectors
As the name suggests, corded radar detectors have cords and are normally mounted on your windshield with the help of suction cups.
While they still tend to offer the best range of detection, over time they are prone to falling off the windshield. The cord can also get in the way of the driver.
This can be quite frustrating while also adding another distraction to the driver, thus making them dangerous when not attached correctly.
Cordless Radar Detectors
Radar detectors now also come cordless. These offer the same level of detection as their aforementioned counterparts, however, they can be moved from one car to another more easily and are much easier to use.
With a cordless model, you also won’t get distracted by unnecessary leads.
Remote-Mount Radar Detectors
While some say that remote-mount radar detectors do not offer the same level of detection as cordless and corded models, they’re permanently attached to your vehicle.
These models are very discrete and therefore nearly undetectable by thieves. Not only this, they do not get in the way of your line of vision. Because of the way they’re installed they also can’t fall from your windshield and distract you from driving.
Radar Detector Special Features
Once you have chosen the type of radar detector you believe will be best for your car, it is important that you look at the various features different models have to offer. Here are some of the most important ones:
GPS tagging is moderately new to the radar detector realm, but the technology has come a long way in the past few years. Now, with GPS technology radar detectors can measure speed, direction, and location down to a foot.
Thanks to this, your radar detector will be able to warn you of a speed trap based on the speed at which you are driving and your exact location. Not only this, these models can adjust their sensitivity and switch between city and highway modes automatically.
If your radar detector does not have GPS tagging, it’s important that it has a highway and a city mode. Highway mode is known as the default mode however, by switching to city mode you won’t get as many false alerts from other sources of signals.
These are particularly handy if you live in an urban area where emergency vehicles, road signs, and automatic door openers could interfere with your device.
Voice And Visual Alerts
While visual alerts are great if you want to keep the noise levels down in your home, these models can be distracting. Opting for a radar detector that also has voice alerts means you never have to take your eyes off the road.
Some parts of the world have banned radar detectors with the mentality that people should simply stick to the speed limit. While this is true, it is easy to forget once in awhile.
Because of these new legal loopholes, law enforcement agencies across the world have designed radar detector detectors, also known as RDDs.
These new devices can see whether or not you are using a radar detector by picking up on the oscillation emissions from the receiver in the detector.
Luckily for us all, new models eliminate most of these emissions allowing our detectors to go unnoticed. Others turn themselves off as soon as they detect an RDD.
While radar detectors with laser detection are more costly, they are also more accurate. These models can detect numerous laser beams depending on the amount of laser detection your model offers.
Models with 360-degree laser detection can detect laser pulses in front, behind, and either side of your vehicle.
Instant On Protection
Unfortunately, if a radar has been aimed at you and you are driving above the speed limit, you’ve likely been caught and there is no real way around it. This is known as an instant-on radar.
While there is no real way of defending yourself against these types of radars, radar detector manufacturers have now added “instant-on” protection to their features.
This means that they come with sensitive K Band reception which alerts you if the vehicle ahead of you was targeted allowing you to slow down before the speed camera reaches your car.
Now there are mobile applications on both Android and iOS that allow drivers to mark speed cameras so that other drivers are made aware of them. These applications often use Bluetooth technology to mark speed enforcement areas seamlessly without you having to do anything.
Emergency Vehicle Warning
Because emergency vehicles such a police cars and ambulances can turn up unexpectedly, numerous radar detector models can send an audible or visual alert to you while driving when an emergency vehicle is getting close to you.
These models are often equipped with safety warnings as well, meaning that if there are hazardous road conditions ahead of you, a road is under construction, there is an accident on your route, or there is a railroad crossing ahead of you, you’ll also receive a warning.
By choosing a radar detector that has a voice activation feature you’ll never have to take your hands off the wheel. From increasing the brightness to making the volume higher and even changing between modes, these models can do everything through voice activation.
Additional Radar Detector Accessories
Aside from the radar detector itself, it is important that you choose a model that comes with a mound of compatible accessories in order to be as comfortable as possible while driving.
Many models come with mounting kits that allow you to mount your radar detector on your dashboard or your windshield. It also important that you choose a model for which you can buy additional power cords.
Some come with remote controls and most come with travel cases so that you can pack your radar detector safely away when not in use in order for it to stay in good condition.
Lastly, be sure that the mode you choose comes with an installation kit. Some manufacturers do not sell these kits included and these devices can be difficult to set up.
The Different Types Of Law Enforcement Speed Control
While we have mentioned the Doppler radar above, there are various types of law enforcement speed control mechanisms now available. Here are some of the most commonly used:
As mentioned above, the Doppler radar uses the Doppler effect to measure the speed at which a vehicle is moving. Named after Austrian physician Christian Doppler, the Doppler effect is the change of wavelength of a wave for an observer who is moving relative to the wave source.
Doppler radars produce the velocity data of objects that are at a distance, for example, a car. The frequency of the reflection is compared to that of the transmitted pulse and the speed of the vehicle is calculated by using the difference between the two.
Instead of radio waves, newer speed detectors use pulsed laser light, also known as LIDAR. This new technology was invented because radar detectors detect radio transmissions and are therefore unable to detect infrared lights used in LIDAR devices.
This is another key reason why laser detection is becoming a more important feature to acquire when purchasing a radar detector for your vehicle.
The Legalities Behind Radar Detectors
When the radar detector was first invented, new laws were put in place making them illegal in certain countries.
These were made illegal because law enforcement deemed drivers using them more dangerous than others, assuming they would drive at their own speed and only slow down when notified by their radar detectors.
People who don’t use radar detectors are normally seen as less reckless as they have to be more conscious of their speed at all times rather than when they receive an alert.
In addition to the above, radar detectors that offer only visual alerts can be extremely distracting, as can those that are corded or use suckers as these can get tangled or fall off the windscreen when the vehicle is in motion.
As with any law in the United States, the ones surrounding the use of a radar detectors completely depend on the state in which you are driving.
Generally speaking, radar detectors are legal in private vehicles under the Communications Act of 1934. However, these are normally illegal in commercial vehicles. While the laws surrounding radar detectors are virtually the same across the country, some state laws differ.
Radar detectors are illegal in Virginia and if you are caught using one you will receive a ticket no matter what speed you are driving at. Not only this, you’ll likely have your detector confiscated.
On the other hand in Minnesota and California, radar detectors are legal but cannot be attached to the windshield. In fact, these states ban anything from being mounted on the windshield.
Reputable Radar Detector Manufacturers
Now that you know everything you need to know about radar detectors, we’d like to introduce you to some of the best manufacturers in the industry.
Once known as Central Television Service Company in 1948, followed by B&K electronics in the 50s and early 60s, and finally Cobra in 1993, the company has been a leading global designer and marketer of mobile communications and navigation products for decades now.
The company operates across the United States, Canada, and Europe, among other parts of the world and has now entered two new growth categories- mobile navigation and marine electronics.
Since the company’s invention of the first CB radio over five decades ago, Cobra Radar has continued to launch a wide array of innovative products for boaters, outdoor enthusiasts, and drivers.
With a backlog of over 30 years of innovative products, Escort has been a leading manufacturer, designer, and engineering company in the automotive accessory industry.
Based in metropolitan Cincinnati, OH, the company prides itself on providing its customer the best quality products on the market. With some of the best engineers in the world and a state of the art manufacturing facility, Escort focuses its effort on quality service and accessories.
As of today, Escort has sold over 10 million radar detectors and other automotive accessories to help people drive smarter. Escort now offers its customers a range of radar detectors as well as accessories such as mounts, adapters, cords, Escort Live products, and Escort Live Kits.
Another company headquartered in Cincinnati, OH, is Beltronics, a leading manufacturer and radar detector provider founded all the way back in 1967. In addition to radar detectors, the company offers laser and safety detectors, all of which are manufactured in North America.
The company has received numerous awards for its state of the art products, most recently an innovations award for one of its professional series radar and laser detectors.
How To Look After Your Radar Detector
As with any electronic device, it is important that you look after your radar detector so that it sticks with you through thick and thin. Here are some tips for maintaining your radar detector:
Mount Your Radar Detector Correctly
There are numerous reasons that you should mount your radar detector correctly from the moment you start using it. For better results, mount your radar detector lower on your windshield.
While many manufacturers recommend that you mount it in the middle of your windshield, speed cameras are normally pointed at your license plate therefore if it is mounted incorrectly it may not have the desired effect.
Also, if you mount your device too high on your windshield it will obstruct your line of vision thus increasing the chance of you having an accident. If mounted too high, you may find that your radar detector falls off leading to further distractions while driving.
Lastly, mounting your radar too high may attract more negative attention and someone could break into your vehicle and steal it.
Keep Your Radar Detector Out Of The Sun
Most electronic devices are affected by high temperatures. If you live in a hot part of the world, it is important that you keep your radar detector out of the sun. Keeping it in the sun may shorten your detectors lifespan, something that is not normally covered under the warranty.
To keep your radar detector out of direct sunlight, consider parking your car in the shade wherever possible. You should also invest in a sunshade or tinting on your windshield. You could also simply remove it from your car or store it under your seat when not in use.
Store Your Radar Detector In A Travel Case When Not In Use
When not in use, store your radar detector in a travel case. Doing so will not only keep it out of the sun as mentioned above, but also stop it from attracting any negative attention. You’ll also find that it doesn’t gather as much dust which will increase its lifespan further.
Keep Your Radar Detector Away From Water
It may seem obvious but if your radar detector gets wet it will most likely stop working. It is important that you keep it away from any harsh weather conditions whether it be sun or rain. Any contact with water will void your warranty and leave you with a useless device.
When buying a radar detector, you must do your research. You must also put thought into the features that you need the most.
While newer models are more expensive, they are normally a sound investment as they use the latest technology and come packed with features that allow you to get the most out of your device.
If you’ve decided that a radar detector is what you need for your vehicle, then we suggest that you head over to our buying guide for further information about what to look for when making a purchase as well as to see some of the best models on the market today.