SkyDiving Without a Parachute

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Given how expensive traffic tickets are, it’s amazing so many people won’t buy a good radar detector. Unlike the car you’re driving, it actually is an investment – and not just in terms of the money it will save you.

A good radar detector will also make driving enjoyable again. Instead of hewing to the letter of every ridiculous speed limit – or living in perpetual fear (and inevitable actuality) of being ticketed for exceeding them – you’ll be able to drive again. Which, incidentally, is also a safety advantage. You spend more time watching the road than the speedometer (there is a reason why race cars do not have speedometers).

But let’s run the numbers first.

You’ll pay about $400 or so for a good radar detector. You do not want a bad one – defined as one that either isn’t sensitive enough to pick up police radar until it’s too late or one that picks up too much radar that isn’t police radar – like the radar emanating from automatic doors and other cars equipped with radar-using safety systems such as Blind Spot/Lane Departure Warning systems. Too many boys-who-cried-wolf and you’ll probably be off your guard when the real wolf appears.

I use the Valentine1 and recommend it – because in addition to being very sensitive and very discriminating (the latest models have new “Junk-K ” filtration software to separate out not-cop radar while still being ultra-sensitive to cop radar) it has front and rear facing antennas (most other detectors only have forward antennas) and it’s the only detector that you can send back to be updated as the latest technology becomes available. Other detectors may be state-of-the-art today, but tomorrow not so much – and your only option then is to drive around with an obsolete detector and be increasingly vulnerable to the cops’ latest technology – or throw the thing away and get a new one.

At full price.

The V1 also has directional indicators – telling you where the radar-running cop is lurking – and can track multiple threats at once, each displayed digitally, with an accompanying audible warning cue. It is the SigSauer of radar detectors.

Anyhow, you pay let’s say $400.

Once.

Now consider how quickly that investment is amortized – and begins to actually make you money. I will use myself as an example.

This morning, on the way home, the V1 alerted me to a pair of county cops running a speed trap on a very straight, very tempting – and very under-posted stretch of the rural highway that bisects my county. This road – US 221 in SW Virginia – usually doesn’t have much traffic and the posted speed limit (55 MPH) is, per usual, set well below the 85th percentile speed (read about that here) which is nearly universal and has the effect of turning almost every driver on any given road into a “speeder” vulnerable to being ticketed.

On US 221, for instance, most drivers are running 60-65 (which is what the speed limit ought to be, for just that reason, if it were based on the 85th percentile speed). The ticket for doing 64 (let’s say) in a 55 is a $120 ticket – or a bit more than one-fourth the cost of a good radar detector like my V1.

EPSON MFP image

But that’s not all you get for your trouble, if you get stopped for 64 in a 55 by officer not-so-friendly.

Unlike the $400 you spent on the V1 (or should have) that ticket you just got also includes “points” – demerits assigned by the state against your driving record that become the pretext for the insurance company jacking up your premiums. Your record of no-claims driving doesn’t count for much. You can have a perfect driving record as far as never having scuffed a fender (yours or someone else’s) and the insurance mafia will still claim your are a “risky” driver based on the demerit points assigned for the trumped-up ticket based on a deliberately under-posted speed limit that almost everyone ignores. But on that particular day, it was your turn to get pinched.

As a result, your premium goes up 10 percent – a pretty common result. You now pay an additional $50 per year and will pay it for the next three years, at least – until the “points” drop off your record.

Sometimes, depending on the state, it takes five years.

Let’s call it three – so there’s another $150 plus the $120, almost half the cost of the V1.

And here’s the real peril: If you happen to get a second ticket while the first one is still active (three to five years, as above) it is a near-certainty the insurance mafia will jack up the premiums by 20 percent or even more.

Put another way, if the V1 saves you two tickets over the course of five years, it will have paid for itself and everything after that is pure, sweet gravy.

And if you drive like I do, that “break even” moment will arrive much sooner.

My V1 saves me on average about once a week. Run those numbers.

Also, it has saved me on several occasions from a particularly nasty trap that exists in my state, where it is statutory “reckless driving” to drive faster than 80 MPH anywhere – including highways where the speed limit is 70. In other words, as little as 10 MPH faster than the legal speed limit can land you in some serious trouble. Virginia’s “reckless driving” statute entails the possibility of arrest and impounding of your vehicle – at the discretion of the cop – and the absolute certainty of a mandatory court appearance at which you face the very real chance of the judge taking away your driving privileges for six months or more and taking a large sum out of your wallet, too. A lawyer is pretty much mandatory and even if you get the charge dismissed, you’ll still be out the cost of the lawyer (typically $800-$1,500) and if you are convicted, your insurance will either be cancelled or doubled.

If this happens to you – and it could have been avoided had you been running countermeasures – you will regret it badly for the next 3-5 years of paying SR-22 insurance, which will cost you multiples what a detector like the V1 would have cost you.

Take it from a guy who drives a lot. Driving without a good radar detector is as risky as going skydiving without a parachute.

I don’t recommend either.

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51 COMMENTS

  1. I have a V1, one of the older models but it has never yet failed me, and you are 100% correct Eric driving without one is a lot like skydiving with no parachute but speaking as one who has jumped out way too many perfectly good airplanes, often just having a parachute or a radar detector is not enough, one has to know how to use one properly.

    I have seen many poor unfortunate victims pulled over that had one, but by the time it went off it was too late, or they might not have even been stopped for being caught on radar, but seen driving faster than traffic or paced by the cop for in some cases miles.

    I have always preached situational awareness as being just as important as a good detector and will often serve you in ways even the best detector cannot.

    Always look ahead and behind you, all of a sudden on the interstate do you seen brake lights flashing a mile ahead with clear traffic? This is a dead giveaway for pork on the shoulders or the median.

    Is there a pair of headlights gaining on you a mile or so back and you are doing 85? Guess what, you are being paced. Gotcha, radar not required.

    Do you see a suspicious dark spot ahead under the overpass? It might be or it might not be, don’t bet $200 to find out.

    One way to stay under to the radar so-to-speak is to take advantage of the traffic clutter on the road. A radar gun generally sees the biggest return target. Any 18 wheeler is a bigger target than almost any car, An SUV is also a larger target than a smaller vehicle staying in the right or the middle lane allows you take advantage of that. I have escaped more tickets by being shaded by a truck than any other way. Stealth driving can be a powerful defensive tactic.

    Look for typical hideouts, especially of you in familiar territory you should know the hot spots. Most cops aren’t know for their imagination, so they stick with what works but it makes them predictable. Same thing with time of day, when it is shift change you are generally safer than say an hour after.

    Another favorite interstate pot is right after an entry ramp or even along side one or the shoulder. Watch.

    I have seen them actually on overpasses so look up as well as downrange. This is also a favorite spot for laser users, not far laser has not really taken off that well in my state since it requires too much effort on the part of the officer. It is much easier to much donuts waiting for the radar gun to make a noise than it is to aim and fire the laser at a particular car.

    One story I like to tell about the laser. I used to have a 2003 E320 Mercedes. The color was Jade Black Metallic, an awesome color, deep jet black with a gleam like I have never see. When the sun shined on it, it was actually a deep green. I had just cleaned and waxed it with a good quality wax and the shine was amazing. I fired it up and took off down the main road in my neighborhood – always at the speed limit there – bit at the top of the hill was pork pointing something at my car. He quickly held it up,and did something that looked like lens wiping then aimed again. For the next 20 seconds he aimed, then held it up and at one point hit the side of the thing. I knew what he was doing but wondered why he kept pointing it, fiddling then pointing again.

    I passed him and he stared at me with this perplexed look on his face. I got to wondering. I got home and took out this laser rangefinder I have. I pointed it at the front of the car form the end of the driveway and got no return. I shined it all over, hood, headlamps, turn signal lights, got nothing. I pointed at my Tahoe at the end and got a perfect reading, back to the Benz, nothing.

    I gt my daughter to shine it while I investigated the surface of the car. I put my hand out and the dot appeared on the back of my hand, but when I moved it out of the way I could not find that dot. The finish of the car diffused the laser to such a degree that there was no reading. I repeated the experiment after a week of Florida pollen had a chance to cover it. I got a perfect laser return every time, except the headlights, which diffused it so much I could not read it. (the ’03 Benz has these odd at the time 45° oval lamps).

    Anyway last tip, keep you car looking good!

  2. In my state, as soon as a cop “lights you up,” he will be able to identify you as a CCW permit holder (I am one). That is a powerful incentive to stay under the radar.

    Rather than spend $400 on a device that reduces my chances of being detected speeding, I think it far more affordable to follow a rabbit or two and stick to no more than 9-10 mph over the posted highway limit. Life may be short, but it’s surely long enough for that much restraint.

    Beyond those no-cost expedients, I might consider poking out $20/year for an FOP booster sticker.

    • Hi Columbus,

      I used to use the “rabbit” as my primary, and I still do use it. But I still got tickets, usually once a year at least. Since I got the V1, no tickets – in years.

      • Last speeding ticket–my one and only ever, in LA/CA–1980. “Traffic school,” then expungement. Never owned any kind of fuzz buster. Just lucky, or maybe I’ve developed a “goldilocks” technique. Staying in or near to a pack and going with the flow is part of it. You’re far more vulnerable with too much road between you and the next vehicle.

        My point about being “lit up” as armed remains a strong motivator for caution.

        • Hi Columbus,

          I hear you. I also have a CHP, so I get that issue, too.

          But, I also really haul the mail at times… and the V1 has literally saved me from a Life Changing Experience.

  3. Garden City, Missouri cops sit on 7 Highway, outside of town and nab travelers heading for the Ozarks. City’s web site lists dozens of warrants for people from as far away as California. Minimum fine, set by local judge, is $110 even for parking in the nearly deserted downtown. Until a few years ago the town had one night watchman. Now they must have at least a dozen cops and are advertising to hire more. Got to pay for them some way.

  4. For those concerned about your radar detector being sniffed out in VA or DC, what you want is a unit that is invisible to the Spectre Elite Radar Detector Detector. There are several articles and videos online; if you’d like to learn more, search for stealth radar detectors.

  5. I’ve had a Valentine ! for a few months and am generally pleased with it. However, it does NOT filter out the junk signals as well as promised.

  6. Since I drive the interstates, when I get on one, I just cruise along at the speed limit until someone goes flying by me. That usually just happens in a minute or two. I jump in behind that lead vehicle or at the back of that pack, and just shadow them. Any traps have always caught the lead car, and never me, so that’s how I keep from getting ticketed. It has worked for me for years, so far.

    • Ditto, Kitty! Even if I had a detector, I would not be comfortable being the lone speeder, or the faster guy in the pack, because if one is, they don’t even need radar to nab you in that case. I’m with you…let someone else be the canary in the coal mine.

      • I usually let TWO people pulling 80 or more pass before I draft them about a half mile back. Saves you in case there are multiple cops in the same location.

        I call it “insurance”. It’s “The Point Man” with peace of mind.

        If there aren’t at least two “patsies” to take the fall that I can draft, I just stick to the speed limit.

        Also helps if you’re unlucky enough to pass an on-ramp just as a cop is pulling onto the highway behind you. They’ll go after patsy number 2 instead of you.

        Just gotta make sure to check your 6 right after passing on-ramps.

        • That used to work in Illinois. A couple years ago the ISP started a new tactic. They drive as they normally do when not revenuing. 90, 100, 120mph and then they pick someone out from behind. So if you’re following the fastest guy on the road…. you’re protecting him. My guess they got some kind of new radar toy that allows this. I rarely see them running stationary “traps” any more.

  7. I generally don’t speed much while in my car – I totally ignore speed limits when riding one of my hyper-bikes, since no police (or any other) car can even come close to catching one. And I’ve had at least two state cops tell me they don’t even try – one, they can’t, and if they try there’s a good chance they could be themselves involved in or cause a horrific accident.

    • Do you also cover your back plate?
      Just wondering, cause today’s cameras in the cop cars are so good, they will easily be able to read your plate after the fact.
      And with video proof, they don’t need to catch you in the act.
      Just wondering

  8. Greetings Eric;
    I been running with a radar detector for 30-40 years now…
    Only ticket I got was in that time was in Palm Beach County, Fl. a cop was hiding behind a billboard and popped out and shot me with his radar gun…
    That was 30 years ago…
    While driving in Nova Scotia on a vacation up there, I got stopped by a LEO, who had a radar detector detector…Confiscated it, and was going to fine me $400…It was a Sunday, and I told him we were leaving the next day…
    Bottom line, he just wrote me a warning, and kept may radar detector..
    I purchased a Rocky Mountain “Phantom-T’ radar detector as a replacement..
    The question I have is, do you think the ‘Valentine’ is a better unit…
    I would gladly buy one if you had any inkling that it was better…
    It’s really had to sort out all the so-called claims people make about these things,, So I don’t know…
    Would be glad to hear from you
    Take Are
    Tony

    • Hi Tony,

      Based on my experience, I recommend the V1. It tests out as the most sensitive and my real-world use bears that out. I also really like that it’s updatable; none of the others are.

  9. Something you don’t mention Eric is that in several states radar detectors are illegal and WILL earn you not only a hefty fine for speeding but also one for the detector. You DON’T want to get caught with one here in Virginia for instance. In some of these states the police can and will confiscate the device on the spot.

    As always, local laws and restrictions apply and can get very expensive if you get caught.

    • Hi Bob,

      I think Virginia’s the only state that still has a law against radar detectors. In any event, I live in VA and use mine every day, so far without incident.

      It’s actually a plus that detectors are illegal because the state’s revenue collectors assume most people (being good sheep) obey the law; hence they tend to use instant on less. Mostly, the just drive round in their porkwagons with their radar running… which gives me the drop on the SOBs!

      • Funny, I’ve been driving all over Virginia without a citation and often over the posted limit but without becoming a hazard since 1990, both personal and professional. Never used a detector, just common sense.

        Drive safe bro, THAT’s the key.

        • Problem is, that even though we generally are pretty sane behind the wheel, either in an instant of forgetfulness, distraction, or just plain dumb luck, your “number” will come up and you will get pulled over. Or, heaven forbid, you speed up to put a potential traffic threat *behind* you, where it then becomes no threat at all. While making that move, you get zapped. The radar detector provides a good buffer against things like these. Most guys would not use it as a license to speed. (it is not for that.)

  10. I was driving down a highway in Kentucky that is virtually cop free at higher than “normal” speeds so to speak, but couldn’t really enjoy myself because every time I felt awesome, I decided to slow down out of fear of a possible run-in with Johnny Law. Did I get into an accident? No, but I was more likely to because I was watching for cops. We used to have a radar detector at my previous company for the outside sales guys and it saved me quite a few tickets.

  11. your state is stupid.. but YOU knew that Eric.

    Ever driven in Texas? Nearly every interstate is posted at at LEAST 80 and some at 85. And there is no distinction between regular cars and the big rigs. Yes, I’ve been doing the posted, 80, and been passed by a tandem tractor with 53 foot dryvan pulling 85. Its even strange riding along with the rigs at the posted limit of 80 or 85, knowing they are legal. Found out my old ford van with a third of a milion on it, loaded pretty full (close to a tonne inside) still has passing and hill power at 85!!

    Just think.. most of the driving I did that was legal i Texas would make me a felon in Virgina.
    So, which state is “right”? Dumb stuff.

  12. Fellow serfs,
    Ever heard of a free app called Waze? It alerts you where the glorified meter maids are positioned as well as cameras, accidents, and road hazards. I’ve been using it for several months now and it works pretty well. It’s better on more travelled roads. If you’re out in the stix…. probably not so much.
    So how effective is the V1 against laser or instant on radar?

    • Hi Joe,

      Instant on is a harder nut to crack. But the V1 (and other good detectors) will detect bursts up ahead (directed at cars ahead) so you’ll get some warning. But if you have the bad luck to be the only car on the road – or the lead car – you still might get pinched.

      Nothing’s foolproof. But the V1 (or similar) will dramatically improve your odds. I wouldn’t say so if I didn’t know so – based on my own experience as a long-time user.

      • Absolutely agreed. Waze has saved me not just enormous piles of cash from the potential of tickets, but time wasted by avoiding construction, roadkill, detours, and the like.

    • Hi Bryce,

      Radar detectors can’t detect VASCAR, so you’re vulnerable on that score. It’s all about improving your odds, though. If a detector decreases your exposure by say 50 percent (and it’s much more than that) it is still money very well spent.

      • Thanks, Eric. I think the reason VASCAR is so commonly used in PA is because radar detectors are of no use in detecting speed traps.

        • Bryce,

          I too live in PA and have been nabbed by the “VASCAR Patrol”. I’ve learned this: Look as far ahead as possible. If you see white lines painted across the road ahead (the ugly things are all over), be prepared to hit the breaks before you reach them and check both sides of the road for spots where Johnny Law could be parked with his stop watch. Often, they’re out in the open and easy to spot, especially during daylight hours. The best defense is to be aware of your surroundings and to know what to look for.

    • I don’t know about PA but, in NC the VASCAR is always run on entrance ramps or hills or both. Just keep an eye out for a white line across the lanes, you’ll have a second or two to check up, just hope there isn’t someone on your tail.

    • In Mississippi, county sheriff’s departments are not allowed to use radar.

      But of course, every legislative session, they come in with their sky-is-falling-unless-I-can-shoot-radar routine, but so far, for decades, they’ve been told to go pound sand.

  13. I have a Valentine V1 which I use for long road trips, and it’s amazingly sensitive away from civilization, but it’s nothing but false positives driving around the busy areas here in the SF Bay Area. Between the cruise control radar, self-driving cars, supermarket doors, and constant radar-based signs showing your current speed, it never stops bleeping. It’s got a bogey counter on the front of it to tell you how many sources it’s tracking, around here, it’s always just stuck at 8 or 9. I wish there was a good way to deal with all these junk signals and just detect the police radar!

    • I’ve yet to see a radar detector that works worth a damn in congested areas- even 30 years ago, before they had all of this BS on the cars and everything. I see people get detectors, and instead of enabling them to drive faster and avoid tickets, it either makes them drive slower, because of all the false positives…or get tickets- because the driver ends up ignoring the detector because it is constantly going off.

          • Hey Eric,

            I’m inclined to get the V1, bt they told me months ago that it can be detected by anti-radar detectors. So is the risk worth it? I mean, if the cops can detect I have it, am I not toast when one passes me, or I pass one?

            • Hi Frenchy,

              I’ve been a user for seven years in Virginia – the one state where detectors are still illegal. Have had no problems, probably because most cop cars do not have the radar detector detectors. So many new cars now emit signals, by the way, that I doubt their equipment is very effective. In any case, it’s a risk well worth taking in my view.

              Not one ticket in the entire time I’ve had mine.

              I used to get one a year, on average…

    • Ha! Do a Google Map search for Hampton, FL, and you will see that the town limit juts out and covers *just that intersection* between County Rd 18 and US Hwy 301. In the video, they say that the cops hang out at the gas station *at that intersection*!!! So, there is just enough real estate (say a couple hundred yards) where Hwy 301 is in town limits, such that they can write tickets! Same thing here in NoVA, with the town limits of Haymarket, VA encompassing a 1/4 to 1/2 mile stretch of I-66, and just where the speed limit goes down from 70 to 65! There is *always* a Haymarket cop pulling somebody over in that small stretch of 500 yards!!!

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