How the latest weapons in the art
of ticket prevention stack up.
by Craig Peterson
At the time of our last radar detector test nearly three years ago, most
manufacturers seemed to be embellishing existing models with a bewildering array of new features,
some of dubious merit, to eke out more market share. If our test results were any indication, many
should have been working into the wee hours, whipping up new models with improved Ka-band
sensitivity to counter a new generation of computer-controlled police radar guns using that
frequency. Now that state police in dozens of states are switching to Ka-band, we set out to see if
the latest detectors are better able to handle this threat.
We gathered six radar detectors for a full test. Performance varies in direct
relation to price, and the street prices of our test units ranged widely, so direct comparisons
between low- and high-end models would be unfair. Truth is, these detectors offer such a confusing
array of features and advertising claims that model-to-model comparisons would be nigh impossible
For example, one model promises ten-band detection, a somewhat nebulous
achievement in light of the fact that this country has but three radar bands: X, K, and Ka. Another
claims that it is the "first to detect the new ProLaser III and L2 guns," equally suspect
since both of those police laser models transmit on the same frequency as every other U.S.-spec
laser and are equally detectable. Others tout their immunity to the VG-2, of little interest to U.S.
drivers except in Virginia, where illegal use of detectors is enforced by use of the
radar-detector-detector. Forget about so-called 360-degree laser detection as well; the devices must
be used from nearly dead-on to be accurate and cease working entirely when they are more than about
45 degrees off angle. Most models receive signals from the Safety Warning System or Safety Alert
transmitters, but so few are in service nationally that nearly all such alerts are false alarms from
other microwave sources.
More useful are the user-programmable options now commonly found on high-end
models, allowing them to be customized to the user's tastes. These include alternate sets of audio
tones and city modes, different types of visual displays, and abbreviated power-up self-test
sequences. Some offer band defeat to disable any of the three radar frequencies, useful in
eliminating false alarms in areas where only one or two radar frequencies are to be found, including
many foreign countries. Also common are voice alerts that identify threats and free the driver from
having to rely solely on visual verification or audio tones for that chore.
The importance of these features is mostly up to the buyer, since a detector is
mainly for preventing tickets. Take a hard look at the test scores, which are listed alphabetically,
before buying. The winner of our last test, the Valentine One, is still very strong, especially in
laser and X-band, but it was trounced by the slightly cheaper Bel and Escort models in Ka-band,
which is growing in popularity with radar police just a quickly as X-band is waning.