You're on your way to work. You're singing along to the radio or thinking about an important meeting with a client when it happens – those dreaded red and blue lights flashing in your rear view. Eventually, the officer drops a speeding ticket into your hand and you slowly pull back onto the road, realizing that piece of paper will cost you hundreds of dollars and cause your insurance premium to spike. You didn't mean to speed. It just happened. It was an accident. This happens far too often.
Speeding is the most common reason for traffic stops. And for good reason – speed is a significant factor in every traffic fatality and most accidents. The faster you drive, the less control you have over your vehicle. It's far too easy to forget that you're traveling in a large metal machine that weighs tons. Speed limits have a purpose, and a radar detector does not give you license to ignore them. The best radar detectors, like the Escort Passport Max2, Escort Passport 9500ix and Whistler CR90, keep you safe and alert to your surroundings by combining GPS technology with radar and laser detection. To learn more, read our articles on radar detectors.
Law enforcement's most common method for determining speed is radar. Radar guns emit a radar frequency that measures the speed of oncoming or outgoing objects by using the Doppler Effect to calculate the change in the returning frequency. The radar signal is wide and can travel for miles, even though the officer may only target a car that's a few hundred yards away. As a result, radar detectors can alert you to police before the police are alert to you, allowing you to adjust your speed if necessary.
Radar detectors are legal in every private vehicle as part of the Communications Act of 1934. However, they are still illegal in Virginia, Washington D.C. and every U.S. military base. It's also illegal for commercial drivers to use radar detectors. Radar jammers are illegal everywhere under federal law.
Below are the features we considered as part of our radar detector comparison.
A radar detector is only as good as its ability to detect. We rated each radar detector according to its range, sensitivity settings and accuracy. Radar guns only operate within three radar frequency ranges – X-band, K-band and Ka-band. However, things like motion detectors and garage door openers can cause false alerts. The best radar detectors have digital signal processors capable of identifying false alerts and blocking them out so that you're only alerted to police radar.
Sometimes police officers use laser guns, which are often referred to as laser radar guns or LIDAR (light detection and ranging) guns. Laser guns are more precise, capable of aiming at a single car without spreading the signal out like radar does. This means that it's almost impossible to detect an active laser gun prior to being targeted. When your radar laser detector alerts you to laser, it means that the officer has it aimed at your car and your speed has been recorded.
Alert features are vital because they attract your attention and keep you aware of your surroundings and your driving habits. The best radar detectors don't just alert you to radar and laser; they alert you to other traffic threats like speed cameras, red-light cameras and speed traps. Some can even alert you when you've exceeded the speed limit, keeping you safe even when there aren't police in the area.
You should also expect to receive alerts for safety warnings that involve accidents and weather. Your radar detector should also alert you to multiple threats at a time. For example, if you approach a red-light camera and active police radar, you should be alerted to both situations.
The best radar detectors we reviewed have built-in GPS and Bluetooth capabilities that give you access to mobile apps. This gives you the most control over your driving awareness because it adds spatial awareness to your driving. It allows you to mark specific locations that might be a speed trap or a dangerous intersection. Mobile apps provide a community threat-sharing feature that allows you to receive active reports from other users in real time.
Help & Support
You should consider the warranty and the manufacturer's contacts. The best radar detector manufacturers go out of their way to help you through phone, email and live chat. You should also look for ways they help you become educated on the product with manuals, FAQs and tutorials.
Don't speed. It's dangerous and irresponsible. By using a radar detector, you can stay alert to your driving habits by being aware of the law enforcement around you. You won't just save money from traffic fines and insurance – you'll be safe.