Radar detector

Everything You Want to Know about Radar Detectors

If you’ve ever driven past a police officer while he’s checking speed limits, you know the feeling of dread that overtakes you. You hold your breath while you wait to see if you’re getting a ticket. That’s why many people turn to radar detectors to determine where the police are. If you don’t want to control your speed, you might find that buying the best radar detector possible works for you.

The History of Radar Detectors

Radar detectors aren’t new technology; in fact, people have been using them for years. Experiments in the innovation began during the 1880s, but they significantly progressed once they got into the 1930s. During this time, these devices were utilized to detect aircraft in the military. They became integral in World War II.

By the 1940s, the detectors featured radar plus moving target indication. This allowed the Navy to determine where their enemies were on the horizon. Not much happened between then and the 1970s. That’s when Doppler radars were created. During the next decade, reflectivity radars started being used by weather services, especially in the United States.

Timelines point to 1954 as the first year that a speed detecting radar device was used. Just over sixty years later, this technology is used throughout the world by consumers everywhere.

How Does A Radar Detector Work?

Speed detectors, or speed guns, utilize the Doppler effect as the technology which measures vehicle speeds. These Doppler radar devices send out a radio wave that reaches the car. Then, it measures the change in frequency to determine speed.

Police officer performing speed trap

Radar detectors utilize superheterodyne receivers which detect electromagnetic emission from a speed gun. The detector finds the band signal emitting from an upcoming speed trap and sends an alert to the driver.

Radar detectors operate on four different bands, all with their own frequency range. In the United States, the most common bands are K, X, plus Ka-Band.

Different Types of Radar Detectors

On the market today, you’ll find three types of radar detectors. They are all produced by various manufacturers and offer plenty of features.

Corded radar detectors mount to the windshield and have cords. They offer a great detection range, but they often have trouble staying put. Some drivers also feel that the wire gets in the way.

Cordless radar detectors feature the same level of detection as the corded models. The biggest difference is that they are portable. This is helpful if you drive in multiple vehicles.

A remote-mount radar detector doesn’t offer the same range as the other two options. Moreover, they are permanently mounted on your vehicle. This makes them discreet and undetectable to a thief. On top of that, they don’t sit in your line of sight, so they aren’t distracting.

Special Features of Radar Detectors

When you’re looking to purchase the best radar detector, you’ll likely come across several special features to consider. Here are the most common.

speed limit sign
Everything You Want to Know about Radar Detectors

GPS tagging – this new technology measures direction, location, and speed. That means you’ll receive a warning about the speed trap based on your location and speed that you’re traveling. Certain models also adjust the sensitivity based on highway or city travel.

Different modes – this is helpful if it doesn’t feature GPS tagging. This setting allows you to choose between a highway or city mode to reduce false signals. In an urban area, it isn’t uncommon for road signs, emergency vehicles, or automatic door openers to interfere with the device.

Visual and voice alerts – you have to decide what is important to you. The visual alerts keep the noise to a minimum but could be distracting. By enabling voice alerts, you won’t have to take your eyes off the road.

Oscillation elimination – when police departments want to crack down on the use of radar detectors, they employ the use of radar detector detectors (try saying that five times fast). These RDDs pick up the oscillation emission from the receiver and alert them there’s a device in use. New models eliminate the chance of being caught because they’ll turn themselves off when they sense RDD.

Laser detection – this is more accurate than a radar detector alone. With a 360-degree detection, you’ll have alerts for lasers in front, on the side, or behind your vehicle.

Instant-on protection – the radar detector won’t help you if the gun is aimed at you while you’re speeding, but this protection takes note when a vehicle ahead of you was targeted and sends you an alert.

Smartphone Integration

In today’s day and age, everything runs on mobile. While the traditional radar detectors work great, many people are turning to smartphone applications to do the job instead.

There are radar detector apps available for both iOS and Android platforms. These offer a low-cost or free alternative to the typically expensive radar detector but provide less versatility and features.

Most of the time, these detectors rely on other users to report speed traps and a police presence. You could also opt to purchase a regular radar detector that has smartphone capability. These are more accurate and fully integrate with your device for easier use.

Waze app

If you choose to try an app first, these are the top on the market:

  • Waze – also offers traffic updates, accidents, and road closures.
  • Radarbot – comes with traffic forecasts, voice notification, and a vibrating mode for motorcyclists.
  • Speed Camera Radar – has a day and night function, 3D design, and auto-zooming map.
  • Cobra iRadar – won seven awards, and alerts of red light cameras as well.
  • Speed Cameras – also provides average speed checks and a battery management feature.

Are Radar Detectors Legal?

When radar detectors first came on the scene, many laws got implemented throughout the world making them illegal. That’s because law enforcement assumed that everyone using one was a dangerous driver.

The reality is that the majority of people utilizing a radar detector tend to be less reckless and aware of their speeds. The detector simply issues a warning which helps the driver to maintain their speed.

In the United States, radar detectors are generally legal thanks to the Communications Act of 1934. What’s important to remember is that only applies to passenger vehicles. The use of them in commercial vehicles is still considered illegal in most states.

Another exception is with Virginia. They are completely illegal in this state. Not only will you receive a ticket, but the police will take your equipment as well. You’ll also want to check your local laws to determine where you must mount the detector. States such as California and Minnesota prohibit them from being on your windshield.

Police officer on a motorcycle

Besides, radar jamming devices are illegal everywhere. Don’t think about using something like this if you want to stay out of trouble.

Do Radar Detectors Work?

Here’s the tricky part. In modern cars, you have a lot of technology happening. From the Adaptive Cruise Control to the infotainment systems, there’s a lot of electronics running at once. A lot of this equipment utilizes the same radio frequencies, which prompt frequent false alarms.

Also, officers know that many people use radar detectors, so they’ve begun using newer technology. Lidar relies on an infrared light which is harder to detect. Most of the time, they focus them on a license plate, making them nearly impossible to detect.

In Conclusion

If you plan to purchase a radar detector, make sure you buy one that is effective and has the advanced features you desire. If you prefer, you might want to try one of the apps first that features community involvement. These are effective at alerting users of upcoming traffic, speed traps, and accidents which make them an all-around useful tool.

Check out the best police radar detector right here.


About Nishal Singh

Car enthusiast since before I could drive.

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