Are Radar Detectors Legal?

Car driving on road.

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If you like to drive fast cars — and who doesn’t? — you’ve probably taken your whip on a backroad joy ride or two. Perhaps you got away with it, or maybe the cops caught you and pulled you over. Either way, the experience was probably thrilling, to say the least. 

Some guys don’t want to tempt fate, though. They want to push breakneck speeds without having to worry about getting arrested, so what do they do? These speed racers buy a radar detector. Of course, even with one of these gadgets, there’s still a chance of getting caught. It’s just slimmer than it would be otherwise. 

Are radar detectors legal, though? In general, yes, but there are some exceptions, especially in regard to where and what you’re driving. 

What Are Radar Detectors?

Perhaps you’ve seen a buddy or even a stranger roll up in a fancy new Corvette or Mustang. If you noticed a little black box sitting on the dash, chances are it was a radar detector. This gadget receives electromagnetic waves emitted by radar guns. It then alerts drivers to the radio frequency, often miles in advance, so they have time to slow down before approaching speed traps. 

While almost all radar detectors use the same technology, they can vary in effectiveness against speed guns. Factors like design, tuning and software programming all impact its ability to receive radio waves from far away. The best models will filter out any signals that come from other devices like automatic doors, bank security systems and construction signs. That way you only get alerts for real and present threats, not false alarms.  

With a radar detector on your dash, you can get away with driving and cornering at high speeds, even with cops nearby. You can also mount the detector to your windshield, although doing so may inhibit your ability to see. It’ll also be more visible to the police, which brings you to the next point. 

In short, yes, radar detectors are legal on the federal level in every state except two: Virginia and Washington D.C. If you use radar detectors here, you could end up paying a hefty fine. Officers may also confiscate your equipment if they see it inside your vehicle, regardless of whether you were using it. Luckily, the law makes an exception for those riding around with one in their trunk. As long as it’s inaccessible and shut off, you can transport it to another state and use it elsewhere. 

It’s illegal for commercial vehicles over 10,000 pounds to drive around with radar detectors, regardless of which state they’re in. That means police will stop anyone they spot in an 18-wheeler or trailer who’s driving around with the gadget in plain sight. For commercial vehicles under this weight limit, radar detectors are allowed, except in Illinois, New Jersey, Virginia, Minnesota, New York and Washington, D.C.

What About Jammers?

Radar jammers or scramblers are illegal across the country because, unlike radar detectors, these devices interfere with the broad signal police use to pinpoint speeding vehicles. They can also interfere with other radio signals, like the ones airplanes use to navigate and communicate. 

Federal law considers jammers malicious interference, so even your first offense can result in jail time and fines. What’s worse, they’ve proven to be rather ineffective at alerting drivers to potential threats, so they’re often more trouble than they’re worth. 

Luckily, there are more accurate and helpful devices out there, including laser jammers. Like radar scramblers, this tech confuses police laser guns so they’re unable to detect drivers’ speeds. They’re legal in all but a dozen states because they use light wavelengths rather than electromagnetic frequencies. Essentially, laser jammers transmit invisible light back to police LiDAR guns to confuse it and throw off police on traffic duty. 

Should You Get a Radar Detector?

Radar detectors may be legal under certain circumstances, but should you go buy one? That depends on whether it’s legal in your particular locale and if you drive a private or commercial vehicle. Even if it is legal in your particular circumstance, you should still think twice about purchasing one. 

A run-of-the-mill radar detector will cost you anywhere from $500 to $1,000, if not more, so they can make a significant dent in your savings. Plus, there’s still a chance it might not work or a cop will confiscate it. Then, you’ll have to pay a speeding ticket — and fines to boot! If you really want to go fast, find a racetrack or go someplace like Germany where there’s no speed limit and you can go as fast as you want,  no detectors necessary.

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