When you see red and blue lights flash in your rearview mirror, your first instinct is to check your speed. This is because speeding is the most common reason for traffic stops by law enforcement. Police use several methods for gauging a vehicle's speed, but the most common method is the use of a radar gun, which determines your speed by using the Doppler effect to compare the outgoing wavelength to the returning wavelengths after the radar bounces off the moving object. However, only a small portion of the emitted radar ever returns to the radar gun, which allows radar detectors to pick up the frequencies and alert you to the presence of police.
Radar detectors don't give you a ticket to speed under the radar. Speeding is the most significant contributor to most traffic collisions and all traffic fatalities. The faster you go, the less control you have over the large metal machine you're driving. The best radar detectors keep you aware of your surroundings so that you're a safer, more concerted driver. The top radar detectors, like the Escort Passport Max2, Escort Passport 9500ix and Whistler CR90, combine GPS technology with radar laser detection to keep you aware of your driving habits. To learn more, read our articles on radar detectors.
Radar detectors easily install to the top of your dashboard or to your windshield with suction cups, which makes them easy to remove and transfer to other vehicles. The best radar detectors combine excellent range and accuracy with control and alert features that keep you aware of your driving habits.
According to the Communications Act of 1934, laser radar detectors are legal to use in private vehicles. However, radar detectors 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 criteria we considered in our radar detector comparison.
Radar guns only operate on the X-, K- and Ka-bands. This means that the best radar detectors must detect these frequencies with accuracy. Unfortunately, the detection process is more complicated, because other common devices, like motion detectors and garage door openers, use radar frequencies within these frequency bands. This can cause false alerts. The best radar detectors use digital signal processors to identify and filter out the false alerts so that you're only alerted to police radar.
The success of a radar detector lies in the timely detection of a potential threat so that you can evaluate and adjust your driving accordingly. Unfortunately, this isn't always possible. Some radar guns have features, such as the instant-on and the POP mode, designed to thwart radar detectors, but laser guns are the most difficult to beat because of the precision. When your laser radar detector alerts you to a laser gun, the police officer has already recorded your speed. Your best hope is to change your driving before the officer decides to flip on the lights.
Maintaining a keen awareness of your surroundings is critical to safe driving, which is why the alert features are so important. The best radar detectors don't just alert you to lasers and radar bands, they also keep you aware of other traffic threats like speed cameras, red-light cameras and speed traps. The top radar detectors can also alert you when you've exceeded an assigned speed.
You should expect to receive alerts for safety warnings that involve accidents, road hazards and severe weather. Your radar detector should also alert you to multiple threats at a time. For example, if you approach a speed camera and an active police radar gun, you should receive an alert for both threats at the same time.
The best radar detectors have built-in GPS and Bluetooth capabilities, which gives you the most control over the detection and alert features. This also allows your radar detector to integrate with mobile apps for additional features and alerts. Mobile app integration provides spatial awareness to alerts by placing the alert on a GPS map.
Another important control feature is the mark location and auto-learn processor. Both rely on GPS, either through a built-in GPS or connection with your phone. With the mark-location feature, you can record specific coordinates that you've driven past 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
Most radar detectors have a one-year warranty. The best radar detector manufacturers go out of their way to help you through phone, email and live chat. You should also consider the educational resources that the manufacturer provides. These allow you to get the most out of your radar detector and learn tips for avoiding tickets. These resources include manuals, FAQs pages, user forums and tutorials.
Speeding is dangerous and irresponsible. A radar detector is not an excuse to break the law by avoiding law enforcement, but it is a great tool to help you stay alert to your driving habits. With a radar detector, you won't just save money from traffic fines and insurance – you'll be safe.