Cops vs. Speeders: How Radar and Laser Jammers Work
Do they work? Are they legal?
What if such capability was available to those of us prone to exceed posted speed limits? What if drivers could make their vehicles invisible to police radar and laser? While detestable to some people and virtually all local, state and federal jurisdictions, the concept of speeding with relative impunity is alluring to others, especially in speed traps where some drivers feel they are used for revenue enhancement as opposed to increasing traffic safety.
In theory and practice, radar jamming technologies have existed for decades. In the 1970s you could purchase plans for radar jammers from small-space ads in the back of magazines (the same place where you'd look to order X-Ray Glasses or a fresh supply of Sea Monkeys). As late as 2004, Scorpion Jammer Technology sold a toaster-oven size device that effectively confounded every radar speed-measuring unit on the market (at least when they were properly calibrated).
"The old analog X- and K-Band radar units were easy to jam," says radar expert "Radar Roy" Reyer. A retired police officer that holds radar and laser training certifications, Rayer is an acknowledged expert in the Cops vs. Speeders game and the proprietor of RadarDetetector.org. "I guess you could say that I've gone over to The Dark Side," jokes Reyer. According to Reyer, even the newest and most popular K-Band of police radar (a digital signal) could be jammed with the right equipment.
The principle of radar jamming is simple once you understand the basic operation of police radar guns. In the most simplistic terms, radar guns emit bursts of electromagnetic radiation at a set frequency. The signals bounce off of a target vehicle, returning to the gun. The computer in the gun measures the differential between the reflected waves to calculate vehicle speed.
Jamming a radar gun requires transmitting a signal that overpowers the one fired by the police officer. Jammers are often triggered into action by radar detectors.
Your mother may have told you, "Just because you can doesn't mean you should." In this specific situation you'd be well served to heed that advice. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) regulates the frequencies used by radar guns. It is a federal offence to broadcast using an unlicensed device on all police radar frequencies. The penalty can be $50,000 and/or five years in prison. Do you really think the FCC will approve a license to a radar jammer? Not likely. Additionally, the FCC -- using their ability to regulate marketing -- has made it illegal to even advertise radar jammers.
One company, Rocky Mountain Radar, continues to sell radar "scramblers." These devices don't technically "transmit" anything, so from the company's point of view, this goes around the federal law. The units rely on passively reflected signals enhanced with some electronic "white noise."
Radar Roy and other individuals who regularly test radar equipment claim that these scramblers are useless. According to a report by Speed Measurement Labs, passive scramblers are only effective at extremely close range and so don't work in real-world scenarios. In other words, don't waste your money. "You might as well have an empty plastic box on your dash," quipped Reyer.
Laser speed measuring units work on the same principle as radar guns, only the waves being transmitted are bursts of ultraviolet (invisible) light. "The FCC doesn't regulate the light spectrum. That's done by the Food and Drug Administration," explained Reyer. Laser type devices found their way into the marketplace through the medical community, hence the FDA's oversight responsibilities.
Laser guns focus a narrow beam of light down the road. The beam is so narrow that it can only target one vehicle at a time. Like a radar gun, the laser gun waits to receive a light reflection off of its target.
The operational goal of the laser jammer is to overwhelm the reflected light, causing the laser gun to register a faulty speed measurement or no measurement at all. "Imagine you're shining a 20-watt flashlight at my car and hoping to catch a reflection off my license plate," said Reyer, "but instead of the reflection, I shine a 500-watt light back at you. You'll be blinded. That's the principle of the laser jammers and scramblers."
Laser jammers and scramblers -- essentially one and the same -- are triggered into action by a laser detector (either built-in to the jammer or a stand-alone unit that's hard-wired to the jammer). Once activated, the jammer illuminates small banks of light emitting diodes (LEDs) or laser diodes. When these come on, "it's like the officer has aimed his laser gun at the sun; it can't see anything," said Reyer. In other words, a high-quality laser scrambler such as the Shifter ZR4 by Escort actually works.
While radar jammers are illegal in all 50 states due to federal law, laser jammers/scramblers are regulated by states. Currently, these devices are legal in all states except California, Colorado, Illinois, Minnesota, Nebraska, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia and Washington, D.C.
For this article our staff did research the relevant federal laws pertaining to laser jammers. The regulatory focus is on light strength, whether the UV light is strong enough to cause damage to the eyes. Manufacturers of laser scramblers sold in the US produce devices that meet FDA regulations. This is important because current laser guns must be aimed directly at individual vehicles to function. Officers do the aiming, and would obviously be susceptible to eye damage from looking toward bright LEDs or laser diodes aimed back at them.
Unfortunately for speeders, the ability to have complete invisibility to police radar and laser doesn't exist.
Experts – including Radar Roy – recommend additional products that can help delay vehicle detection by police radar and laser. The simplest is a black bra used to protect the front of a vehicle from road debris and stone chips. Because it covers much of the vehicle's reflective surface, a black bra dramatically reduces the light reflected back to a laser gun.
Because headlights, fog lights and license plates must remain visible - and are highly reflective - these can be treated with radar/laser absorbing coating. These coatings (Laser Veil is one of the brands in this category) reduce reflectivity, giving a driver more time to react once their detector device signals an alarm.
Currently, limited invisibility is the best that speeders can hope for in the ever-changing game of cat and mouse with law enforcement. If there is one thing to expect, it's that technology will continue to evolve and these constant shifts in the balance of power will keep things interesting. That's until, of course, we're all strapped in to autonomous cockpits, traveling at the same speeds and maintaining the same distance between vehicles. With that, what's Big Brother gonna' do?
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