Radar detectors are pretty common for many drivers, especially those who drive frequently and want to take any and all steps possible to avoid getting tickets. Since speeding tickets cost significant amounts of money, and often result in raised insurance rates, radar detectors are a good investment for many drivers. With many of these devices costing under $100, a radar detector can easily pay for itself (and then some) if it saves you from being issued a ticket. The only downside is that if you do get caught speeding with a radar detector, your chances of getting off with a warning instead of a ticket are slim to none, as officers usually count the radar detector as warning enough.
The rules for radar detectors vary from state to state (and also from country to country), so it’s important to know if they’re legal in the state you live in, as well as any states you’ll be driving in. Before going out and purchasing a radar detector for your vehicle, be sure to familiarize yourself with all of the laws. Just as with all of the rules, limits, and laws of the road, the radar detector rules are very important.
What is a radar detector?
Radar detectors are small electronic contraptions that can alert drivers when a police or highway patrol officer is nearby. These devices are placed in your car cabin, and detect when a radar is nearby. They will then light up or make a noise to alert the driver.
Radar detectors are not foolproof, because they only detect Doppler radar guns - which are only one of the multiple means that police and highway patrol officers use to determine the speed of drivers. There are a few other ways of detecting speed that officers will sometimes use, and some simply go by the eye test. But Doppler radar guns are by far the most common way of detecting speed, especially on freeways.
By using a radar detector, drivers can be alerted to when an officer is nearby, and they can make sure that they are traveling the speed limit before the officer spots them.
Why are radar detectors illegal in some places?
While radar detectors are legal in most places, there are a few spots where they are not. The primary reason for this is because some people believe that radar detectors encourage speeding and reckless or dangerous driving. These people believe that without radar detectors, drivers are much more likely to obey the speed limits, because they have to worry about getting a ticket if they exceed the limit.
Another reason that radar detectors are illegal in some places is that they can be distracting, as drivers may spend a lot of time looking at them to see if there is a police or highway patrol officer nearby. However, this is not a very valid concern: in places where radar detectors are outlawed, many drivers simply keep them in their glove compartment or center console (where they won’t be seen by an officer). Trying to use a hidden device is certainly more dangerous than trying to use a clearly visible one.
What are the radar detector rules in each state?
Radar detector rules are pretty consistent throughout the country, but there are a few exceptions.
Radar detectors are not allowed in Virginia, in any type of vehicle. If you are caught with a working radar detector in your vehicle you will be given a ticket, even if you were not speeding. You may also have the device confiscated.
In addition to being banned from use in a vehicle, radar detectors also cannot legally be sold in most parts of Virginia.
California and Minnesota
Radar detectors are allowed in California and Minnesota, but they cannot be mounted on the inside of the windshield. These states have laws prohibiting any items from being on the windshield (as they may obstruct the driver’s view), so you can receive a ticket for mounting your radar detector there.
Illinois, New Jersey, and New York
Radar detectors are legal in Illinois, New Jersey, and New York, but only for private vehicles. Commercial vehicles are not allowed to use radar detectors, and will be subject to tickets if they do use them.
All other states
Radar detectors are completely legal in all other states, with no commercial vehicle restrictions or windshield mounting issues. This means that radar detectors are legal in 49 of the 50 states, in some capacity or another.
Additional radar detector rules
In addition to the rules in Virginia, radar detectors are also illegal in Washington, D.C.
There are also federal laws that prohibit the use of radar detectors in commercial vehicles exceeding 10,000 pounds. Regardless of what state you’re in, you cannot use a radar detector if your vehicle falls into this category.
While radar detectors are the most common device for avoiding a ticket, there are two other contraptions that do similar things. Laser jammers keep laser guns from being able to identify a car’s speed, while radar jammers emit radio frequency signals, which either hide your speed from a radar gun, or provide the radar gun with false information. Radar jammers are illegal under federal law, and therefore cannot be used in any state. Use of them comes with a very hefty fine, and usually confiscation. Laser jammers are legal in 41 states; they are illegal in California, Colorado, Illinois, Minnesota, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, and Virginia.
While you shouldn’t use radar detectors to help you drive at unsafe speeds, they can be handy tools that can save you lots of money in tickets and insurance prices. So if you live in a state other than Virginia, and are thinking of getting a radar detector, you are fully free to do so. Since there are many options in a wide price range, you should first check out our guide on how to buy a high quality radar detector. And once you get your detector, follow these instructions to get it up, running, and saving you from tickets.
This article originally appeared on YourMechanic.com as Radar Detector Rules for All 50 States and was authored by Brady Klopfer.