Things to Know About Radar – and Radar Detectors

Radar detectors, like bulletproof vests, don’t make you invulnerable. They improve your odds. And like a bulletproof vest, the more you know about your radar detector’s capabilities — and vulnerabilities — the better off you’ll be. Here are some things worth knowing:

* Radar detectors usually can’t pick up “instant on” radar… until it’s too late –

One of the ways police foil radar detectors is by not giving them a steady signal to detect — which gives you less time to react. Instead of lurking by the side of the road with his radar on, waiting for you like a venus fly trap, the cop will wait for you to get physically close and then blast you with his radar — hitting you praying mantis-style. Your detector erupts, but it’s too late to brake. The cop’s radar already got you.

The good news:

Instant on is one-victim-at-a-time. You are most vulnerable when you’re the only car on the road (not counting the cop). And when you’re the first car in line. It’s like being targeted by a sniper. But if you’re the second car in line, your detector will detect the instant-on pulse in time enough to scrub speed. Besides which, the cop is probably focused on the car ahead anyhow — and not you.

Instant-on radar is also more work for cops — and that is good news for us, because it means they use it less than always-on radar. This is especially true in Virginia, the one state where radar detectors are still illegal; cops assume most people don’t have them — and so rely even less on instant-on. (One exception to this is the Blue Ridge Parkway, a portion of which runs through Virginia and is patrolled by federal Park Police who use instant-on almost exclusively.)

* Sensitivity vs. false alarms –

There is more “clutter” in the air today than ever before. Even just a decade ago, radar signals pretty much emanated only from cops — and automated doors (as at grocery stores and so on). It was easier for the detector to sift through the chaff and alert you to the real deal. False alarms were fewer. Today, radar emanates from cars — and big rigs, too. If you have a detector, you’ve probably noticed this. All of a sudden, your unit shrieks, the warning lights go off. But where’s the cop? There’s nothing around except that Escalade coming the other way. Or maybe it’s a Peterbilt.

What gives?

Both (and many more) emit radar, which your detector is detecting. New cars (and big rigs) have collision-avoidance systems that use radar to sense other cars. Problem (for us) is that our detectors can’t — yet — tell the difference between their signal and police radar. You basically have two options. The first is to adjust your unit’s sensitivity (to less sensitive) to reduce the racket and light show. Of course, that makes you more vulnerable to the real deal. The other option is to endure the racket and light show — but the racket and light show makes it harder for you to notice a real threat in time to deal with it effectively.

The good news:

They (the radar detector companies) are working the problem. I know Mike Valentine (V1 radar detectors) personally and have spoken with him about it. They are working on filtering systems that will reduce false alarms considerably. Also, most of the in-car radar currently in use is in K band — which is also used by police. But Ka band is used only by police. If your unit gives you a warning about Ka band, heed it.

* Police radar is very vulnerable to defeat … in court –

Radar sends out a signal that becomes more diffuse with distance. Unlike laser, radar can’t focus on a particular car in a pack of cars. This is a critical point, legally speaking, in the event you get a radar-based speeding ticket and want to contest it in court. Which you should, every time, even though it’s a hassle. Because every moving violation on your DMV record can and will be used against you… by the insurance mafia. You may have never filed a claim or even had a claim filed against you. But get a ticket or two for “speeding” and it’s very likely you’ll be tagged with a rate increase that will last for years, on top of the fine you already paid to the state.

Back to your defense. Using mine as an example:

Last summer, I was out riding motorcycles with three friends. A cop coming the other way lit us up and pulled us over. We all got tickets for 54 in a 45. But there is no way — as a technical point — that his radar could have accurately ID’d the speed of three bikes at the same time, especially given we were riding in single file. Maybe the lead bike was doing 54 in a 45. But the bikes following behind? Maybe they were, but the radar didn’t tag them. Couldn’t tag them. Radar doesn’t have that ability. This was enough to get the charges dropped against two out of three of us.

Unfortunately, I was number one in line.

But the point is, unless you were the only car on the road — or the lead car — the above constitutes a solid defense against any radar-based speeding ticket. Unfortunately, you may need to engage the services of a lawyer to present this defense in a manner acceptable to the court. And that will cost money as well as time.

However, it’s always better to pay once (for the lawyer) than to pay several times (to the insurance mafia).


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