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The Difference Between a Radar Detector & a Laser Detector

It's a fact of life: when you own a hot car, you drive fast. If you're smart, you've learned where the cops are lying in wait. If you're not, and somehow manage to repeatedly get tickets in the same spot time after time, you might want to invest in a decent radar detector or laser detector. They're no substitute for obeying the traffic laws, but they do serve as an early-warning reminder for those who "forget" or "don't notice" how fast they're going.

In general, there are two types of traffic-monitoring methods currently in use: radar and laser. They measure your speed by bouncing radar waves or bursts of laser light off your vehicle and back to the gun. They calculate the change in distance traveled over a certain area and use that information to determine your speed. Radar detectors and laser detectors work by monitoring commonly used radar frequencies and provide a warning, usually through sounds or flashing lights, indicating signals that match.

Radar guns operate on three bands in this country: X band, K band, and Ka band. There is a fourth band, the Ku band, but it's used primarily in Europe. Depending on where you're driving, it's possible to encounter any of the radar or laser bands, which means you should invest in a detector that monitors all bands, including laser. In addition, modern radar guns can target your vehicle from the front, back, or side, making it possible for your speed to be determined even from an oncoming lane. So, to provide maximum protection, make sure your radar detector is equipped with 360° detection, like an Escort radar detector or Beltronics radar detector, alerting you to radar and laser signals emitted from every direction.

A radar gun generates radio waves, making radar detectors most effective when there is moderate traffic. The more the gun is used, the more waves it generates. The less it's used, the less warning you'll get—something to keep in mind when you're tempted to fly down that seemingly deserted side street. Many cities also use what's known as POP radar. It allows police to turn it on and off, thus generating a shorter warning range than radar in continuous use. Radar guns are currently more common. However, due to the fact that laser guns emit a very accurate, narrow beam compared to radar guns, their use is quickly increasing. This pinpoint beam can make detecting laser guns more difficult, but not impossible.

In addition, lasers guns don't emit a constant signal, making them much harder to detect than radar guns. That said, a laser detector is more than capable of alerting you to a laser gun pointed at your car. However, the warning will generally provide a much shorter distance in which to slow down before your speed registers. A radar detector, like the Escort radar detector or Beltronics radar detector, is a must-have for those with a lead foot. For the cost of one good speeding ticket, they provide a reliable warning when you're not paying attention to your speed.