Disclaimer: I do not recommend or condone the breaking of any laws, nor make any statement that I have done so during the use of any items mentioned in the following. One should seek to always operate with in all laws, traffic related or otherwise.
Radar detectors are sort of a weird form of mystical witchcraft in the view of American popular culture. Most people, even those who own one, are relatively unaware of how they work or how well they work – or don’t. The foolish amateur buys a Cobra detector for $100 and thinks they can drive 100mph at all times, as if they had a cloaking device. The somewhat better educated user is aware of the limitations of a radar detector, but often doesn’t know how to apply science to the purchase or appropriate use of a detector.
I bought my first detector, the still-current Escort Passport 8500 X50, four or so years ago while I was still borrowing mommy’s car. I liked driving fast and wanted a little advanced warning. Like with all my new technology purchases however, I spent nearly a dozen hours researching radar detectors, over a few weeks, before making a purchase decision. I read countless technical articles and independent reviews, in which scientific testing was performed to determine what a detector could do, what it couldn’t, and all-importantly, which was best. I won’t get into the whole which is best debate too heavily here, but sufficed to say the science doesn’t lie.
Simply put, the Escort Passport 9500ix has the most useful features in real world situations and it also has the highest sensitivity (detection range) of the feature-loaded models. The Beltronics GX65 is highly comparable to the 9500ix, but with only slightly reduced detection and false filtering. The Valentine One—sort of like a Ferrari, in that it’s technically inferior in some ways, but those who swear by it will take one to their grave—combines high range with some useful features, but one must pay extra for peripherals that the 9500ix comes with, making it the most expensive model without the best performance. The Escort RedLine drops some of the features of the above three, but adds pure range to the moon and back. Then bringing up the rear of the high-end models is the ESCORT Passport 8500 X50 — and it’s rival, the Beltronics RX65 — which has similar sensitivity to the capable 9500ix, but drops many of the other features along with $200 in price. If you’re reading this and you own the GX65, I have no doubt you’re convinced that it’s the best one. If you are reading this and own a V1, I KNOW you think you have the best one and you might as well stop reading because you have no sense. People swear by what their friends have and then by what they have, employing selective hearing to filter out the evidence to the contrary. As with most of my significant purchases over the years, I was the first person I knew to own one. I have no per-determined loyalty, and I did my research objectively. Independent testing has scientifically demonstrated the above to be in order of overall effectiveness.
Now for how it all works. If you have or are currently researching radar detectors, you have no doubt run into laser/lidar detection, POP detection, radar bands, false hits, multiple bogeys, instant-on, and many other terms that may make understanding a radar detector more difficult.
False Hits are when your detector goes off but there might not be a police car for 10 miles. ‘Falsing’ is caused by one of two things. Automatic doors in stores utilize a radar sensor to detect people walking up to the door. The radar microwave signal is then scattered and your detector picks it up. Automatic doors only give off X or K-band radar. Some lower end (under $300) radar detectors do not have adequate microwave shielding and actually emit a scattered microwave signal of their own. This signal is rarely picked back up by said detector, but can be picked up by high-sensitivity detectors nearby. Sometimes if you’re on an isolated stretch of highway and you get a K or Ka-band hit, you need only look over to see the cheapo detector in the adjacent car.
Radar bands are simply different frequencies of microwave radiation. A radar gun emits a blast of it, focused where the gun is pointing (but also scattering and bouncing off objects), which returns to the gun, allowing it to calculate distance, and therefore speed. They are as follows:
X-band is a band of radar which was used in the earlier days of radar guns. Unless you’re in New Jersey or Virginia, where some are still in use, you will never receive a ‘real’ X-band hit. Most educated detector users will disable X-band detection in order to eliminate the annoying false hits caused by some automatic doors.
K-band is unfortunately a band that is in use by both automatic doors and police. This means that anything other than the highest two models will receive both the false hits and the real hits, and it’s often difficult to differentiate. The Passport 8500 X50 I owned for four years had excellent sensitivity, but constantly picked up K-band false hits from automatic doors and passing budget detectors. Only the Passport 9500 and Bel GX65 have enough false-filtering tech to weed these out.
Ka-band is only used by police radar and occasionally given off by a cheap detector. It’s safe to say that if you have a high end detector and you get a Ka hit, it’s the real deal and you should slow down.
There are other bands in existence but not in the US and barely in use in Europe. Experts say there is nothing to suggest that we will ever see anything other than K and Ka band in use in the US. Ku is the old band lightly in use in Europe.
Instant-On radar is a radar gun which only emits a signal when the LEO (Law Enforcement Officer) pulls the trigger. This is the only form of speed detection employed by LEOs, which cannot be countered. In the event of constant-on radar, a good detector will always go off before you’re in view of the gun. In the event of instant-on, a LEO can be selective with his targets. Lets say he’s monitoring a 65mph zone and has decided he wants a speeder that’s over 90mph. He can visually judge the speed of motorists within a few mph so he can tell that most of the traffic is doing no more than 82mph, and he doesn’t pull the trigger. You therefore don’t know he’s there and come barreling along at 97mph. The LEO sees you and pulls the trigger, and by the time you get an alert he already has your speed and he’s coming after you. Radar jammers are a felony to possess, as they are military tech, so the only way you’re going to know an IO radar operator is there is if he’s scanning the traffic up ahead. This means that in wealthier towns (where they can afford up-to-date guns) and on the highway, the only defense is strength in numbers. If you are alone on the road you may well be screwed.
POP radar is a super-fast form is IO radar. It’s an anti-radar detector feature available in a few radar guns, which allows a LEO to fire a radar burst so brief that a detector doesn’t pick it up. The problem is that a POP reading isn’t grounds for a ticket, so it can only be used to check speeds of oncoming vehicles until the LEO selects the car he wants to hit with a real IO blast. The idea is that POP detection allows you to know if a LEO up ahead is ‘POPing’ traffic ‘silently’, putting you in danger of being hit with the IO blast. Thing is, very few guns are equipped with POP technology, and of the ones that are, nearly zero officers use it nation-wide. The truth is that police just don’t take radar detectors seriously enough to spend their time trying to beat one. In one interview an officer said of drivers with radar detectors, “If I don’t get him going to work, I’ll get him going home. If I don’t get him going home, I’ll get the guy behind him. And if I don’t get that guy, I’ll get the guy behind him.” Police are out to meet a quota above any safety concerns, so they aren’t going to make their job harder chasing detector users. Don’t buy a detector just because it has POP. If it has it, turn it off to avoid the occasional false it causes.
Rabbit is a term that refers to a speeding car which you match speeds with at a distance. Say you’re doing 70 and want to do 80, but that would make you faster than the other traffic and at risk for an IO attack. Then a car passes you doing 85. You can give them a 1/4 mile lead on you and then match their speed, following at a distance. This makes it so that a LEO with IO radar will hit your rabbit before he hits you, allowing you to get the alert and slow down. In theory, assuming the LEO can’t see your car visually when you do this, the rabbit theory has few limitations in terms of the temporary speed you could hit (I’m not saying I recommend this). If your rabbit is going at least 20mph over the speed limit, it’s a safe bet that they will get hit by any scanning LEO, even if the LEO doesn’t decide to chase them. This means that if your rabbit was a 1/2 mile ahead, you could theoretically gain on him traveling 200mph and so long as you slow down before getting too close, you can safely assume that you’ll hear a hit before you’re in the LEOs sights.
Laser and lidar are the same thing. It’s is a common misconception that they aren’t. Different laser units have slight variations in their functionality, but the way they attain your speed is the same. Rather than scattering microwave radiation like a radar gun, laser guns shoot a relatively focused, pulsed beam of IR light. They then calculate the time it takes for the pulses to return and measure the changes in that time to attain a speed reading. All lasers (even the red lasers you can buy in stores) have what is called a beam divergence rating. This is just the rate at which the beam gets wider as it moves farther from the point of origin. 800ft from a laser/lidar gun, most guns’ beams have diverged to 3ft in diameter, and here’s why that matters. Your laser-ready radar detector can only pick up laser if it hits the detector directly, and police are trained to aim for the license plate, followed by the headlights, then sweeping across the grill until they get an effective bounce. If you drive a low sports car – where the windshield is only 18″ above the grill – this is not an issue, but if your SUV’s windshield is 3ft above your license plate and the radius of the beam is only 1.5ft, you’re not even going to get a hit while you’re being directly targeted. For this reason a lot of detector users wonder why the hell they just passed a LEO aiming a ‘gun’ right at them and they never got a hit. If it was a laser gun, that’s why. They were so close that the laser wouldn’t have possibly hit the detector, and the funny thing is, it doesn’t even matter. Like IO radar, the hit always comes too late to react. If your detector tells you you’ve been hit by laser, the LEO already knows your speed. Laser is also a trigger fired form of speed detection. The other downside to laser is that its narrow beam makes it unlikely to reflect at just the right angle off another car, meaning that even if your rabbit is targeted, you’re not likely to get a warning alert (unlike with IO radar, with which you will). Essentially, laser detection is useless. To defend against laser, the only option is a laser jammer (see below).
Multiple Bogeys are when a detector receives multiple signals at the same time, from different sources. Most good detectors have the ability to display more than one hit and the strength of each hit. Unfortunately the V1 tries to employ dual antennae to do this more effectively, but it is to its own detriment. It often confuses itself into thinking there are 6, 7, 8, even 9 bogies when there are simply two automatic doors. This is caused by signal-bouncing off various objects and the two antennae picking them up differently. Passports (and I think the Bel as well) do it with one antenna and are quite good at it. The idea of the technology is to identify a LEO which might be deliberately hiding inside an automatic door hit so you don’t know he’s there. Again, police don’t care about radar detector users, however this does happen by coincidence at times. Personally I ran my 8500 X50 and run my current 9500ix in “Expert Mode” which displayed multiple bogey strength. I do this in case the detector fails to identify which is the more pressing threat. For example if I’m right next to a strong false, but there’s a distant real hit, I want to know about the distant hit as it’s far more relevant to me. Thing is, if the detector wasn’t reading multiple hits, it would likely only alert me to the strong hit right next to me. It’s a useful feature for those who take detection seriously.
Redlight/Speed Camera Alerting is what it sounds like. Most GPS enabled detectors come with a preloaded (and frequently updated) map which allows them to alert you when you’re approaching a known redlight camera or speed camera. Neat as this feature is, I can’t fathom why the redlight part exists. While radar speed enforcement and speed cameras are idiotic (statistically very few accidents are caused by excessive speed), red lights exist for a very good reason. Running one is equally stupid whether or not you might get a ticket. It’s called an accident, for those who haven’t heard of them.
Lockout is a feature by which a GPS enabled detector can recognize a specific false hit and stop alerting you of it. Most detectors with GPS Lockout allow you to mark a false hit by pushing a button, and then the next time you pass that spot it will stay quiet (unless a different frequency of radar is in use, in which case it will know that could be a LEO sitting in the same area). One or two, like the 9500ix, have AutoLockout which recognizes when the same frequency has been received in the same spot three times, and automatically locks out the hit. Personally, I can’t say enough for this feature. It works extremely well and after a few months with the 9500ix, I stopped experiencing a single false hit in any of the locations that I even lightly frequent.
Laser jamming is probably the coolest form of speed detection defense I can imagine, and is frankly bad ass to run with. Unlike all the functions of the most advanced detector, which only warn, laser jamming is a legal electronic countermeasure. In terms of configuration, a jammer consists of one to four emitters, as well as a speaker and control box inside the car. A single emitter can be used to protect just the front of a small car. Two can be used as one front, one back, or two front. Three is two front, one rear, and four is two and two. The larger the car, the more dual emitters are NEEDED, however for the best possible protection everyone should have two front and two rear. The emitters are mounted at or near the same plane as the license plate. When they receive a laser hit, two things happen. They immediately send a system of laser pulses back to jam the gun and prevent a speed reading. They also sound an alarm inside the car so the driver knows they’re being hit and are currently jamming. Obviously, however, if the LEO had been using his laser gun all day with easy reads, he might quickly grow suspicious if a car came along for which he couldn’t get a reading. For this reason the idea is that the driver slows down to a legal speed immediately and then disables the system with a switch (some systems do this automatically after a given time), allowing the LEO to obtain a speed reading.
I’ve never run a jamming system but have researched them heavily. Blinder and ESCORT both have offerings that work well, with the Blinders being pricier and less user friendly, but being the better jamming option. All told, a Passport 9500ix detector, coupled with a full Blinder jammer system and some knowledge of how best to use them both, would make a driver susceptible only to a ticket by instant-on radar – a system which tactics, cunning, and some common sense can usually avoid.
If it adds any credibility to my knowledge of radar avoidance tactics and how to integrate them with detector use, I have been a spirited driver of sports cars for a good few years now, and even including my aggressive-driving adolescent days, I have never been pulled over for speeding.