How do radar detectors work?

While it’s not as important as a working engine or a good set of tires, a radar detector can still make for an invaluable addition to your vehicle. Since they’re not exactly the simplest of devices, it pays to know how radar detectors work if you plan on using them to their fullest.

To understand how a radar detector does its magic, one should first learn more about the means through which road officers capture the speed of a vehicle. The mechanism is surprisingly simple: the so-called radar gun constantly emits waves and registers every object they bounce back from along with its speed.

The inner workings of a detector

In turn, a radar detector constantly scans for radar guns and their waves – as well as similar devices – in order to alert drivers before their vehicle is pinged. A radar detector’s mechanism of operation is also what makes it somewhat inaccurate at times: these detectors can misinterpret a wide variety of devices with workings similar to that of a radar gun, which has led to more than a few false alarms over the years.

If radar guns and detectors are similar and the latter is known to suffer from inaccuracies, isn’t the same also true for the former? Unfortunately for the drivers, yes: radar guns can easily report the wrong (usually greater) vehicle speed and unjust fines are nothing new. In fact, it’s estimated that at least two out of ten ticketed drivers get pulled over due to a radar gun’s miscalculation.

A radar detector’s main purpose is to help the drivers avoid such situations by letting them stay comfortably on the safe side until they’re in the clear from a radar gun. They should never be used to crank the gas pedal too high and get away with it – the fact that you managed to avoid a ticket doesn’t mean you didn’t endanger others with your reckless driving.

Alternate technologies of radar guns and detectors

While most decent radar detectors will serve you just fine, the drivers and the police are always trying to one-up each other: in some areas, road cops are known to use methods of speed scanning that bypass standard detectors and render them basically useless.

If you suspect that the police in your area might be guilty of this, consider getting a radar detector with laser detection built inside it. Be careful, though: laser detection usually operates on an invasive principle, seeking out to jam the police’s ‘speed laser’ as opposed to merely detecting it – unlike detection, jamming of police devices is illegal in many areas and could land you a hefty fine.

While handy, a radar detector with LIDAR-suppressing capabilities could be seen as an illegal device. It all depends on the individual police officer, as some of them might not realize how a laser detector works (or even that you have one running), but it’s better not to risk getting fined when you’re not even sure whether the cops are using laser speed detection or are simply sticking to the old-fashioned methods.