Ask an Officer About Radar

This information was written by a Police Officer from the “Ask-a Cop” website.

Radar Myths and Realities

There are many, many myths and misconceptions floating around out there about RADAR (RAdio Detection And Ranging) and LASER (LIDAR or LIght Detection And Ranging) units and how they operate. As a certified RADAR/LIDAR instructor, I can tell you that your best bet, regardless of what you choose to believe, is to just drive the speed limit. No matter who believes what about the reliability of the equipment and/or the competence of the officer using it, the only way to eliminate all doubt is to obey the law. These are the most common comments I have heard over the years concerning this topic. I do not consider myself to be an “expert” in the workings of all RADAR/LIDAR equipment on the market. I simply want to provide you with the best information I can to allow you to make an educated decision on what you do out on the road.

“RADAR won’t work in bad weather”.

False. RADAR “accuracy” is generally not affected by inclement weather, however the sensitivity may be diminished somewhat. The main reason that you do not see many tickets being written in bad weather? Cops do not like to be out in the elements any more than anyone else.

“RADAR detectors will prevent me from getting a speeding ticket”.

No, your driving the speed limit will prevent you from getting a speeding ticket. I think I have defeated about every kind of RADAR detector on the market. They are okay as a tool to help keep you alert (maybe) but they are not very effective as a tool to keep you from getting nailed with the RADAR gun. Nearly every RADAR unit on the market today has a “hold” feature which allows the officer to prevent the RADAR beam from leaving the unit until he/she wants to check the speed of a vehicle. It is very common for the beam to be released, a speed obtained, the speed locked in, and the beam held again all within a matter of a second or two. That is much faster than you can react, brake, and get your car slowed down enough to avoid being stopped. In fact, the majority of detectors cannot even be activated in that short time. So, if the officer is using the unit to its full potential, you’ll get nailed every time.

“Officers cannot hide when running RADAR”.

While I very seldom utilized this tactic, it is perfectly legal. Sneaky, maybe, but legal. I once had a lady tell me that “that’s not very fair”. My response was “What is not fair about posting that big black and white sign back there telling you how fast you are allowed to drive?” Some people are very good at speeding while watching out for the cops, so we have to even the playing field somehow. Unfortunately, most speeders combine that violation with not paying very much attention to much at all, so they are easy to catch even in the wide open.

“If I ask to see the RADAR, the officer has to show it to me”.

To my knowledge, there is no law in effect making it mandatory for the officer to show you the RADAR. My feeling has always been that if I had a legitimate speed locked in and it was them, why not show it to them? I had nothing to hide and even though they had no idea what they were looking at (most units allow a speed to remain locked in for an indefinite period of time, so it could be a speed from 2 hours ago) and if it increases my credibility in their mind, so be it.

“The RADAR unit must have my speed locked in to make it a legal stop”.

False. I normally tried to have the violator’s speed locked in if I stopped in just in case they wanted to see it, but many times after locking it in and pulling out to pursue the vehicle, the locking trigger would bump into my clipboard lying in the seat where I had just laid my RADAR and viola!…no speed. They still got their ticket.

“Red cars get more speeding tickets”.

Whatever. I cannot make a red car go over the speed limit any more than I can a purple one, so I do not know where this one came from. I suppose it may be because red sports cars look really cool, but traffic cops do not care about cool, they care about violations. Now that is not to say that if you are driving some hot, eye-catching machine that an officer may not give you a second look, but if you are obeying the law, who cares?

“Why did the officer stop me out of a group of cars that I was driving with?”

There are certain criteria that an officer uses when determining which vehicle is actually giving the speed shown on the RADAR. They are too involved for me to go into here, but suffice it to say it is possible to “pick a car out” of a group, it is just usually very difficult. I had a guy tell me one day that I must have gotten one of the other cars because he was not speeding. I asked him “If the other car is the one I got going 57 in a 35 zone, and you were passing him and every other car in the group, how fast were YOU going?” He did not answer me. LIDAR, however, is another story. These units have a sight similar to a rifle that the officer lines up on the vehicle to be checked, holds the unit steadily on the target, and gets only that car’s speed. The unit that I am certified in has a beam width of approximately 3′ at 1000′, so it only hits one car at a time. Compare that with the approximate 250′ width of a RADAR beam at the same distance and you can understand why this new technology is a favorite among law enforcement officers in the field and very difficult to go up against in court.

“How fast can I go over the limit before I will get a ticket?”

Depends on the officer and the jurisdiction. Most officers have the discretion as to when they write tickets. Most that I worked with allowed anywhere from 6-10 MPH over before they actually cited the violator. The best answer, obviously, is drive the posted limit and no more. But, I know, we must be realistic here.

“Do police officers have a quota?”

I honestly have never heard of a department ordering (in writing) their officers to write a certain number of tickets in a given period of time. This job, however, is not unlike any other with performance standards. If I come in at the end of my shift with no paperwork, the boss is gonna wonder what in the world I was doing out there. If I work on an assembly line, I am expected to produce “X” number of units per shift to show that I am actually pulling my weight. Any smart departmental administration will tell their officers that “if it is a valid violation and you feel that it needs to be written up, do it”. That may mean 30 tickets a month, it may only mean 3, but it should be up to the officer’s discretion as to whether or not a citation is issued. It also depends a great deal on what the officer’s primary assigned duties are. An undercover narcotics officer, for example, is certainly not going to go around writing tickets (unless one of his neighbors blocks his driveway), but a traffic officer who’s primary responsibility is traffic safety could easily rack up 15-25 per shift. Sadly, there is no shortage of violations occurring. The key is, are they solid tickets that make sense.