Test: Radar Detectors vs. Photo Radar
Which detector is best at countering photo radar?
Last updated 6/17/2012
Which is the best radar detector for countering photo radar? We test models from BEL, Cobra,
Escort and Valentine to find out.
After our test this week against the latest photo radar (mobile speed camera) technology, two things are clear: 1) Most radar detectors give little advance warning of it and, 2) There are some exceptions, but you won't find them in the closeout bin at Sam's Club.
I've been testing radar detectors against these rolling ticket machines since 1991 and despite advances in radar detection, they're not much easier to handle today. The latest radar used by Redflex and others is an imported TTL-pulsed, low-powered K-band unit that's exceptionally difficult to detect. Most detectors can't spot it from across a six-lane freeway.
It's been a couple of years since our last test against photo radar and now that this new pulsed radar is popping up like mushrooms around areas like Phoenix, we felt it was time for a rematch. Keep in mind that because of its nature, detection range against this type of radar is exceptionally volatile. In a test last year against the same type of radar,
some of these detectors delivered as much as 30 percent less range.
Much of the variation was due to that radar van's location—along an eight-lane freeway rather than a six-lane this time—and a background with a different variety of reflective objects, including heavy big-rig traffic. When you're dealing with a miniscule power output and a directional beam aimed across the road, little things like this matter. (Merely placing the target vehicle in lane one, closest to the median, rather than lane four will effectively neutralize detectors whose antennas have a limited field of view, for instance.) Anticipating
these fluctuations in detection range, we made four runs with each radar detector and averaged them.
We tested a mix of mid-priced and high-end models, focusing on GPS-enabled units and on those we knew from past tests are unusually hot K-band performers. Retail prices ranged from about $300 to $500. Since the target vehicle had an Escort Passport SRX ($1,100) custom-installed unit already built-in, we recorded its score as well, but only for comparison purposes. Here's what we found.
Of the non-GPS group, the Escort Passport Redline ($499) proved to be the best protection you can buy against this K-band photo radar, delivering 1,220 feet of warning distance. It was followed closely by the Valentine One ($399) at 1,196 feet and the
$339 BEL (Beltronics) RX65 (1,178 feet). Another BEL, the STi Magnum ($470) trailed its
Pro-Series sibling by a few percentage points.
Among GPS-enabled radar detectors the BEL (Beltronics) GX65 ($469) and Escort Passport 9500ix ($499) both delivered good range, upward of twice that of the competing Cobra XRS R10G ($469) and the $389 XRS 9960G (an updated XRS 9950 that's the subject of an earlier test and review.)
At less than 500 feet, on average, under optimal conditions—about 4.5 seconds of warning at 75 mph—drivers packing one of these Cobras would need to remain on high alert and react instantly to warnings.
two Cobra GPS-enabled radar detectors experienced greater success against conventional K-band radar in our last shootout but as noted, detecting this new pulsed photo radar is a far tougher job.
Study the scores and it's clear that this is one threat where an otherwise-capable detector can't help much. You'll need a detector with outstanding performance to counter this type of stealth radar.
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