Can you use radar and speed detectors? Depending on which country you live in, some are legal! We guide you through what you need to know before using one.
It might look a little like a dash cam, but these small items could save you from a costly speed fine. And the best part is, they’re mostly legal, no matter where you are in the world.
Production cars’ acceleration and top speeds have never been more intense. Cars with engines able to produce over 100bhp per liter are now normal. The most bonkers spec Tesla Model S Plaid is now too fast to take as Run-What-Ya-Brung to a drag strip. They are so fast they require roll cages. So, with ever-increasing temptation sitting beneath your right foot, the threat of being clocked by a speed camera has never been more likely.
The moral context
First things first though, before we dive into the world of radar and speed detectors, it’s worth clarifying our stance on this. There is nothing clever about putting lives at risk, and speeding on public roads is known to be a major factor in crashes that cause injury. The figures vary a little between the USA, UK and Europe, but nearly a third of all injury/fatality accidents are speed-related. The ROSPA website says two thirds of injury-causing accidents happen on roads with a speed limit of 30mph or less.
The whole debate about road speeds and limits is a major one. It’s all about road conditions, who you are sharing the road with and how well they are built. It’s certainly outside the remit of this article.
We know it’s difficult to adhere to the speed limit when being righteous, let alone when driving with enthusiasm. Tempted into sin by owning great lumps of power, be it petrol, diesel or kilowatts of coils? For these people (myself included), we need a device that can tell you to slow down. A unit that can say, “HEY! LESS OF IT!”
But are radar and speed detectors allowed? Some are, some are not, it’s all about geography and application.
GPS Speed Trap Locators – Legal
A GPS chip and a memory with trap locations in a database are the main workings of these devices. The law as to their use varies. In France, merely owning one in the car, unused, is the same offence as using it and is utterly forbidden. All such devices are banned and your sat nav and even Google Maps won’t show you camera locations in France. Not an issue in the US or UK.
GPS units don’t have a map but rather simply know where you are as a point, versus the other points. They are the locations of as many kinds of speed cameras and speed van locations as they can collate. The system can then work out your heading and proximity to threats and display it. All Gatso and TruVelo cameras only fire one way, so the best detection systems are directional. They won’t trouble you if the camera is rear-shooting only and you are going the other way. You just need to look out for the second camera on your side of the carriageway…
As you approach a camera location, the device will warn you it is there. Some by mostly ‘speaking’ to you, like the Cheetah C550, some with fancy graphics like the Snooper My-Speed. And some with bleeps and graphics, like the Road Angel PURE. There are extra features on the higher-end Road Angel products. They can show your average speed on stretches with SPECS digital surveillance. You can report a camera van location as ‘LIVE’ as well. That depends upon there being other users reporting it by pressing a button. I have had one of these for many years. There have never been enough users for this function to ever work for me personally. But I still pay attention to all the alerts.
GPS detectors need updating to keep their databases up to scratch. While some will let you do it for free, others charge a yearly or one-time subscription. The free one I saw was for the whole life of the unit and allowed one download annually. Definitely worthy.
Radar & Laser detection – Legal
Laser detection is like ‘bullet detection’. If you get shot first, you definitely will detect it with a laser detector. And you will be zapped and read for your speed. Like a bullet – ouch. If the laser gunner is shooting at a car that is not you, then you have a hope. The scatter of laser all down the road at you will be detected and give you a chance to slow down if you were sinning.
Laser works at horribly long range and if they can see you, you can be lasered. The detection in UK camera vans is laser and they are backed up with some serious glass. Real ugly grade paparazzi stuff. They can also penalize seatbelt non-wearers and those holding phones in their hands from the images, too. At seven hundred yards. I have an ex traffic cop chum who told me how scary they are. So laser detection is really of only medium use.
Radar detectors are more likely to work and save you against radar guns because of the physics involved. The guns’ range is a lot more limited than laser. Radar needs to bounce off your vehicle and come back to the radar gun to get a reading. Unlike a laser that does not spread out, radar does. So the reflection is much weaker. Thus a lesser max range for the officer – call it ‘X’. At 2X in your car, you get the same amount of radar energy beaming at you, spread out, as the officer gets once you are in range. So you can detect the radar from twice as far away as they can measure you.
There is a chance they may be banned one day. They keep trying to…
Jammers & Plate Abuse – Illegal
There is a class of Croatian-made electronic product that is said to function as a parking sensor. Although they recommend the use of four ‘heads’ plugged into their system, for some reason. Fact is, it’s a Class 1 904nm laser emitter. Designed to pulse at the same rate as the named forty-seven models of every manufacturers’ laser speed guns. It creates an inconclusive result for the cop and then switches off. This gives you five seconds to slow down and be read at a legal speed. Likewise, the sprays and films for applying to your number plate are way more than mere construction and use contraventions. Messing with your number plate is definitely not a good idea. Even the website that sells the film, tells you that it is a ‘novelty’ and not for use on the road. Such a daft dichotomy.
But for the record, these things work only for infra-red cameras, with no visible flash. Normal flash photography will see the plate as easily as our eyes do. The sellers use the term ‘unauthorized IR cameras’ which is delicious. But the risk of prosecution is for a way worse offence than ‘mere’ speeding. A sharp officer will be suspicious of you for running a jammer and investigate you.
The risk is that the laws you are breaking by using plate abusers are pretty dire as motoring penalties go. It is an actual ‘obstruction of justice’ offence and that can mean a prison sentence.
TETRA RADIO Detectors – Legal
This is a grey zone. In the UK, the emergency services of Fire, Ambulance and Police all use a system called TETRA for TErrestrial Trunked RAdio . Receiving police communications by radio and acting upon them is criminal but owning The Target Blu Eye 2 is not. It tells you only that a Tetra radio is with a kilometer or less. It does not give you any information but it does make unmarked police cars stick out like a candle in a cave.
Another unit I have personal experience of, it makes you awfully vigilant and goes off for every ambulance and even customs officers. Not sure what it is really useful for, apart from rascals wanting to know about covert cops. When I changed cars, I admit I didn’t feel the need to move it to my new ride.