Driving over the speed limit is one of the most common reasons for being pulled over by law enforcement. Traffic stops are never fun – for this reason, most of us instinctively check our speedometer right when we see flashing blue and red lights. There are several technologies and methods police utilize to catch you at your fastest, and one of the most common is through the use of a radar gun. The science behind the radar gun is through exploitation of the Doppler effect, which is used to compared outgoing wavelengths to incoming wavelengths once the radar reflect off a moving vehicle. The vast majority of radar that is projected from the radar gun never actually makes its way back to the receiver, and this unaccounted radar frequency can now be picked up by your own personal radar detector to warn you of police presence.
While the use of radar detectors shouldn’t be seen as an easy way to break the law and not get caught, the best radar detectors will help you remain aware of your surroundings, and should actually make you a better and safer driver – it should also reduce the likelihood that you will be pulled over and subjected to ticketing, monetary fines, or points on your license (raising insurance costs). Remember, speeding is one of many factors that play a role in causing traffic accidents and even traffic fatalities. Many times, the other person is to blame. The greater the speed you are traveling, the greater the likelihood of loosing control of your vehicle, or being unable to react fast enough to someone cutting you off. Many of the top-rated radar detectors also incorporate radar laser detection and GPS capabilities for the most advanced level of speed trap detection, and speeding fine prevention.
Radar detectors can be easily positioned with suction cups onto a windshield. Some may choose to go for a custom install directly onto the dashboard or attached to the rear view mirror. However you decide to mount it, the best radar detectors should be accurate, have sufficient range, and should include various configuration options and alert features. Radar detectors are typically legal to use in private automobiles according to the Communications Act of 1934, though military bases, Virginia and Washington D.C are some examples of locations in which legislation has been passed regulating their use. Commercial vehicles are also banned from using. On the other hand, radar jammers (devices which emit radio frequency signals that disrupt radar guns through the use of mechanical or electronic jamming) are illegal to use – these are functionally different from radar detectors, which are only there to alert you when laser or radar is detected within a certain vicinity. Laser jammers (some brands advertise themselves as super-strong parking proximity sensors) also exist, and in most cases they are illegal
Radar guns generally operate within a few select frequencies (e.g. X-bands, K-bands, Ka-bands) and so should be able to detect and discriminate the frequencies coming from a radar gun, from those that stem from other common devices (e.g. automatic doors at the supermarket and other motion detectors, garage door openers) and can trigger false alerts. The best-rated radar detectors should not only be able to identify these frequencies, but should be equipped with some degree of onboard digital signal processing capabilities to filter out irrelevant information so you’re only alerted to police presence. In our complete guide for the best radar detectors, we outline some of the important features to consider, which is then followed by the top-rated radar detector reviews. This is a one-stop shop for all your radar detector buying needs.
Best Radar Detector Complete Guide
Escort Max ll HD Radar Detector
Valentine One Radar Detector
Escort Passport 9500IX Radar Detector
The speed of detection is also important, and successfully avoiding a ticket requires you to be notified well-before a LEO (law enforcement officer) has the chance to record your speed. Unfortunately, sometimes this is just not possible. Instant-on or POP modes are just a few technologies that police departments are now using to reduce the effectiveness or personal radar detectors. Laser is also being used more and more, and if your laser radar detector notifies you of a laser gun, chances are the officer has already tagged your car and knows how fast you were going. Still, knowing a laser is being pointed at your vehicle gives you the chance to slow down and adjust your driving accordingly, hopefully preventing a speeding ticket.
Some of the highest rated radar detectors not only notify you of lasers or radar bands, but should also alert you to other threats on the road like speed cameras, red-light cameras, and even speed traps conducted by law enforcement. The ability to detect and alert to multiple threats at the same time is yet another feature that you should demand out of any decent radar detector. A simultaneous approach to both a red-light camera and an active police checkpoint in the distance should result in an alert for both threats at the same time, as they can both be potentially hazardous and costly.
Those with GPS capability should also warn you of impending severe weather, traffic accidents, or other road hazards. As you can see, the best radar detectors are no longer built strictly as a way to game the system and avoid speeding tickets, but are now equipped with many helpful features to provide you with an additional layer of awareness for safer driving. Bluetooth capabilities are also important, which allows your radar detector to collaborate with a variety of smart phone apps. Mobile apps are often used alongside a radar detector to increase spatial awareness with the use of alerts on a GPS map. Mark location is one feature that many mobile apps use that allows you to designate a certain road or area as dangerous or to notify the community as being a speed trap. This threat-sharing community is updated in real-time by uploading reports yourself and from other members of the community.
Know the Terminology
Before reading the radar detector reviews, you should familiarize yourself with some of the basic terminology and features of radar detecting. Not only will you be better able to select the best product for you, but you’ll find you get better results as you’ll be better equipped to handle and properly use the detector in real-life scenarios.
- X-Band, K-Band, Ka-Band Detection: This refers to the frequency ranges that can be detected by a radar detector (these are the most commonly used bands by police radar guns).
- Instant-On Detection: This is a feature needed to help counteract the Instant-On feature (designed to thwart radar detectors) found on many radar guns used by law enforcement, which works by scanning the other vehicles on the road that are ahead of you. If working properly, this should give you enough forewarning to react appropriately and slow down.
- POP Mode Detection: By sending quick bursts of radar (usually K-band or Ka-band) that last for less than 1/10 of a second, POP is yet another way for police to avoid being noticed by radar detectors. Those detectors (e.g. MPH Industries) equipped with POP Mode Detection are better able to catch this technique and alert you before it is too late.
- Laser Detection: Police no longer scan exclusively using radar, and often use lasers to record a vehicle’s speed. A detector with this feature is able to detect lasers pointing in your direction.
- Voice Alerts / Multi-tone Alerts: The ability to alert to multiple possible threats at the same time. High-end radar detectors can produce a variety of voice notifications or tonal alerts depending on the threat.
- False Alert Filter: Motion detectors or garage door openers are frequent causes for false alerts on a radar detector. If equipped with false alert filtering features, these frequencies are still detected but are selectively ignored and will not result in the driver being notified.
- Auto-Learning: Often requires GPS – allows for the automatic learning of known false-alerts or to mark areas where real threats may be located.
- Bluetooth Connection: Wireless connection to your Bluetooth compatible smart phone allows integration between a radar detector and mobile apps.
- Built-In GPS: Provides additional awareness of surroundings and enhances the effectiveness of other features including community sharing, false alerts, auto-learning, etc.
- Community Sharing: With this feature, you have access to real-time accounts of speed traps, officer sightings, or traffic accidents, that are uploaded from other local users of the same radar detector or mobile app.
How Do Radar Detectors Work?
When a detector picks up radar waves that come from speed-detection devices (whether it be man-operated like on radar gun, or automatic like on a red-light camera), it notifies the driver (usually in the form of an audible alert). Other than using aircraft (timing the length of road traveled from one white line to the next) or various pacing techniques (officer follows until it matches the vehicles speed), speed-detection boils down to either radar or laser. Radar is the one method that is currently most commonly used, which involves the use of microwave signals that tracks a large metal object’s (moving vehicle) Doppler Shift by the projection and receiving of a rebound signal. The next time you see a cop posted up behind the bushes with a noticeably large handheld device aimed at oncoming traffic, this is exactly what he is doing.
If you own a decent dash-mounted radar detector, in this situation it should alert with an audible beep or light up on the display, indicating that radar has been detected (most likely Ka bandwidth, as this seems to be the most commonly used in the U.S.) – in other words, check your speed and if needed, slow down to the posted speed limit as you’re likely to avoid a ticket this way. Many of the best radar detectors utilize multi-tone alerts, so if you are alerted for a radar band that is commonly used by law enforcement, it’d be smart to slow down. LIDAR (light detection and ranging) works similarly in that it can be used to effectively (more effectively according to some sources) measure the speed of a moving vehicle almost instantaneously. The laser beam itself is roughly 4 feet wide, and can reach nearly 1,000 feet. Just like with radar, an officer must aim the laser gun towards the moving vehicle (though laser requires more precision), usually it must be aimed toward the center of the vehicle or other reflective surface (e.g. the license plate, a chrome grill, headlights) to measure the distance between the gun and the car at over 500 times per second. With laser, only a single car’s speed can be read (and there must be clear line of sight) because of the narrow beam. Radar on the other hand, can get the fastest speed reading when aimed at a group of cars – this is how police seem to always be able to single out the fastest moving vehicle in the pack, regardless of whether your in the slow or fast lane. Most decent radar detectors now come with laser detectors as well, and if you’re the only car on the road speeding, laser will probably be used to target you (in this case, it’s probably too late to slow down).
Budget Detector? Think Twice
While there are many decent cheap radar detectors on this list, they often are not equipped with some of the new technologies and must-have features that the higher-end radar detectors provide. Considering the fact that speeding tickets cost on average anywhere from $50-$2,500 each, our advice is not to skimp out if you have a little bit of extra money to invest. The cost/benefit ratio when it comes to radar detectors happens to be one of the most clearly defined – in other words, with radar detectors, typically the more you spend the better it will be (and the more likely it will be able to detect and alert fast enough to avoid speeding tickets and points on your license). The bump in insurance premiums is no joke, and for that alone, it is worth the extra cash for a higher-end detector. The difference in quality, reliability, and overall performance between a radar detector that costs $250 vs. $350 vs. $500 is readily apparent. Regardless, this is not to say that inexpensive radar detectors are useless, in fact there are many that work relatively well. Still, not everyone has the money to shell out $500 on the best radar detector, so PricenFees reviewed some of the best detectors for any budget. In many cases, these cheap radar detectors are just outdated and so don’t have all the bells and whistles (e.g. laser or POP detection, false alert discrimination) or comparable detection range to some of the newer top-rated detectors. Unless you pay top dollar, expect to hear a lot of chirping due to false alerts and low detection range.
Best Radar Detectors Reviews
1. Escort Passport Max 2 Review
The Escort Passport Max 2 has one of the longest ranges for detection that we’ve seen, is highly accurate in that it easily discriminates between real and false threats, has a number of GPS features to promote safe driving and that are utilized by the community threat-sharing app and a built-in database of speed-camera locations. Not only will the Max 2 warn you of any traffic cop that is in your area, but you’ll have knowledge of any upcoming speed traps, red-light cameras, speed cameras, or emergency vehicles. The Passport Max 2 is a feature-packed, highly reliable radar detector that is easy to use and can be set up within minutes.
With one of the longest detection ranges currently on the market, if you have the money to invest, the Max 2 is the best. You won’t be slamming on the brakes because of every garage door opener, motion sensor, or even other radar detector, you pass on the road – but it will help you avoid expensive tickets. The Escort Passport Max 2 can pick up K-band, X-band, and Ka-band radar frequencies, and can selectively discriminate between true and false readings utilizing digital signal processing and other intelligent GPS features. Out of the package, you’ll notice you receive quite a few false alerts, but within a couple days you’ll see false alerts are much less frequent as it learns your area (with regards to lower-quality devices, those obnoxious false alerts are there to stay).
There are three sensitivity settings (Highway, Auto, Auto No X) to choose from depending on the speed you are driving or whether you want to increase/decrease false alert processing power. With the highway setting, detection range is increased to up to 6 miles (enough time to adjust speed if notified), and all filtering of false alerts is turned off. While this works nicely on the highway, if this setting is used on regular roads in the city you will be constantly receiving false alerts. In this case, pick the Auto setting, which turns on digital signal processing of false alerts, increasing accuracy (while sacrificing a bit of range). The Auto No X selectively turns off any alerts for the X-band (which is the most common for causing false alerts). The Escort Passport Max 2 is also a LIDAR detector (laser radar detector) and is equipped with many laser sensor diodes (for 360° detection).
The built-in GPS system is one of the most important features, as it plays a significant role in many of the important functions, including the auto-learn system. Auto-learn utilizes your GPS location to automatically track and ignore locations where fixed-position false alerts frequently happen. After a number of days, false alerts are much more infrequent (and accuracy continues to increase the more that you drive around). Additionally, you can mark locations yourself to highlight specific threats you’ve encountered. This information is saved for later, and is also used to anonymously update the Escort Live database of potential threats for other local users. The Defender Database comes preloaded with a vast number of red-light camera, speed-trap, and speed-camera locations. Whenever you begin to come close to these locations you will be notified. If you want access to weekly updates to the Defender Database, an additional small subscription fee is required (though highly recommended as up-to-date locations are necessary to get the most use out of it).
One nifty feature is the over-speed alert, which notifies the driver when a pre-specified speed is reached. Speeding tickets are often the result of accidental circumstances, in that the driver was simply not paying attention to how fast they were going and were just in the wrong place at the wrong time. Its easy to have a heavy foot when blasting tunes on the radio or taking a late-night drive on an open road. If you’ve exceeded a certain speed, the Max 2 can be set up to alert even before you encounter a radar gun. On the left side of the display you will see your current driving speed, and the over-alert speed that is currently set. Any speed can be set to alert automatically. You can also connect your device to your smartphone through Bluetooth, which gives you access to the Escort Live app (which can display the speed limit of the road you are currently driving on in real-time).
The Escort Passport Max 2 is our favorite radar detector because it is packed with powerful features, has GPS capabilities and a highly useful mobile-phone app that can be used to track speed limits, law enforcement presence, speed-cameras, red-light cameras, and other speed traps in real-time – this is in addition to the highly accurate long-ranged radar and laser detection this device has to offer.
2. Valentine One Review
The Valentine One has one of the longest detection rages for both radar and laser, is equipped with a rear-facing sensor, and provides an impressive arrow display system that is used to indicate the direction of the source of the radar signal. While the technology itself and user interface is not quite up to date, the Valentine One is still on of the best radar detectors on the market.
The three arrows display orients you to the source of radar gun, and this impressive functionality is unique to the Valentine One. Three arrow lights are used to alert whether the signal is coming from the front, sides, or rear of the vehicle. If a K-band or Ka-band signal has been detected ahead of you, it is more than likely a speed trap and it is vital to slow down to avoid being ticketed. On the other hand, if it is coming from the side you have little to worry about because an accurate speed-reading from the side of a motorcycle, truck, or car is pretty much impossible. If the alert notifies you as coming from the rear, you should probably take it easy because there may be a patrol car trailing behind somewhere (possibly trying to match your speed for). Regardless of the direction, this feature is nice to have so you aren’t constantly in fear and scanning for police in all directions (when your eyes should really be on the road).
Multiple radar sources can also be tracked, and is presented to you with a numeric readout based on how many sources of radar are found at once. GPS is not utilized on the Valentine One, and so automatic false-alert processing and other features are not found on this device. There is good and bad to this. The good is that the Valentine One is a bit more sensitive and wont mistakenly ignore a real threat. The bad is that you may encounter more frequent false alerts as there is no auto-learn feature (though the three arrow directional alerts allows you to estimate the direction and determine for yourself whether it is a speed trap or just a garage door opener). According to other sources, the V1 is able to detect up to 13.5 miles if conditions are ideal, and it is also one of the best laser detectors.
The intuitive interface may be basic, but something overly-complex is probably not a great choice to use when driving anyway. There are only a few buttons, with the main knob being used to turn on/off and to set the volume or mute a current threat. The controls themselves are positioned to face the driver slightly for easy-access on the road.
Overall, the Valentine One delivers top-end performance when it comes to all the essentials like radar and laser gun detection. The three-arrow alert orients drivers to the location of radar source, and happens to be a highly-useful feature for real world scenarios. If you can do without GPS and some of the other modern features found in its competitors in our best radar detector comparison, the Valentine One is a top-notch radar detector that can be had for less money than some other devices with comparable (or better) performance specs.
3. Escort Passport 9500ix Review
The Escort Passport 9500ix has an internal GPS that allows for comprehensive alert features, is highly accurate with one of the longest ranges and is compatible with the Escort Live app for enhanced threat detection. The 9500ix can detect K-band, Ka-band, and X-band radar frequencies simultaneously (or separately), and those police radar guns that use POP (instant-on) radar modes. The Escort Passport 9500ix also function as a LIDAR detector (laser detection). Although though it doesn’t offer the same protection that is found with radar detection (once a laser has reflected off of your vehicle, the officer has likely already gotten an accurate speed reading), it should still be used to keep your wits about you and to reduce speed if necessary.
The Escort Passport 9500ix comes pre-loaded with the Defender Database, which can be used to pinpoint thousands of potential fixed-location potential threats that haven’t been producing detectable signals (e.g. speed cameras, red-light cameras, speed traps) and even offer real-time alerts that were anonymously uploaded from other users. If one of these locations is nearby, an alert will display on the screen along with the estimated distanced. The Defender Database requires a subscription after an initial trial period (3 months) so keep this in mind if you plan to use this feature.
With a built-in GPS system, the AutoLearn feature can be utilized to provide additional digital analysis to aid in discriminating between real threats and false alerts (artificial intelligence protection). In other words, the more you use your radar detector, the more AutoLearn can single out locations that often bring about false alerts so you aren’t constantly struck with chirping in your vehicle. The Escort Live app provides you with real-time reporting of potential threats from other users in the community (this seems to work better if you reside in a highly populated location because the more people there are using this feature the better it will work).
Overall, the Escort Passport 9500ix is one of the best budget radar detectors that has a decent range for both radar and laser detection, and comes equipped with some of the more advanced must-have features like GPS technology, Bluetooth SmartCord connectivity to the Escort Live app, and AutoLearn features to reduce false alerts.