Review: Escort Passport SC55 Red Light Camera Detector
Photo-enforcement camera protection for BEL and Escort radar detectors
By Radartest staff
Note: discontinued model
Drivers weary of being pestered by red light and speed cameras often want protection from these nuisances. But this has meant moving up to one of the GPS-enabled radar detectors like the Escort Passport Max2, Escort Passport 9500ix, Escort Passport 9500ci or the BEL (Beltronics) Pro 500. Great radar detectors, but not inexpensive. Now, with the arrival of the Escort Passport SC55, it's possible to combat photo enforcement cameras without having to retire your detector in favor one with integral GPS.
The Escort Passport SC55 is a dual-role device. As a stand-alone unit it acts as a red light camera detector, its Defender camera-location GPS database allowing it to warn of cameras ahead. With the addition of the Detector Kit ($20) it can be linked to high-end Escort Passport and BEL (Beltronics) radar detectors including the Escort Redline and BEL (Beltronics) STi Magnum.
The Escort Passport SC55's red LED display looks like that of the Escort Passport 9500ix and they share a number of features. A quartet of top-mounted controls operates the unit: at the outer front corners are the power on/off (left) and Mark Location (right) buttons; these flank two smaller, adjacent buttons, V/M and Cruise. Pressing this pair simultaneously enters Preferences mode, letting the user select from a menu of options.
The perpetually confused will find solace in one of the available displays—a compass heading showing current direction of travel. This can be combined with vehicle speed or either can be displayed separately. Other options include a vehicle system voltage readout or a scanning red dot. Display brightness is four-step manually adjustable or auto-dimming and there's a choice of voice announcements or tones. Auto power-down is a unique feature that kills the power to the SC55 and an attached radar detector after a few hours to limit battery drain.
The better GPS-enabled radar detectors can vary radar detection sensitivity automatically according to road speed, maximizing protection when you're at risk and dialing back sensitivity in low-speed traffic to reduce false alarms. When the Escort Passport SC55 is connected to a radar detector, it can use its real-time speed monitoring to simulate variable-speed sensitivity in the detector.
To do this, the Cruise button is used to select a threshold speed below which no voice alerts are sounded for radar encounters; a double-beep audio tone is heard instead. This in turn controls the radar detector's audible alerts.
To test this feature we linked the Escort Passport SC55 with an Escort RedLine, the most sensitive radar detector we've tested, with a world-record 14.25 miles of radar-detection range in one shootout of two best-performing radar detectors: Valentine One versus the Escort Redline. Placing the Escort Redline in maximum-sensitivty highway mode, we drove a local route that's infested with radar-controlled automatic door openers. Right on cue, the RedLine reported each signal visually but this time remained silent, a major advancement in driver peace of mind.
When alerting to photo enforcement cameras, the Escort Passport SC55's red text display shows the nature of the threat and begins counting down in 100-foot increments as it approaches. Voice alerts also provide threat identification, spelling out whether the camera is set to monitor only red light violations or speed-on-green as well (an increasingly common practice). Warning distance varies by speed, giving adequate time to react but without becoming a pest through premature, needlessly-long alarms.
The Escort Passport SC55 visually counts-down the distance to a marked location in hundred-foot increments. Arrival is greeted with a "You've reached your marked location" voice confirmation. Or, if voice alerts are disabled via the preferences menu, they are replaced by a double-tap audible tone upon first alert and when the marked location is reached. In addition, the nature of the threat is spelled out, e.g., Speed Camera or Red Light Camera. This is useful information and helps the driver react appropriately to the threat.
To reduce radar false alarms the Passport SC55 has the Cruise Alert feature, a user-set speed threshold below which no radar alerts are sounded. It works as promised, allowing even hypersensitive radar detectors like the BEL STi Magnum and Escort Redline to be run in unfiltered highway mode in town. Either will continue to alert to non-police radar signals, mostly from radar-controlled automatic door openers, but these alerts are visual-only; the audible alerts are disabled by the Escort Passport SC55. Only when vehicle speed exceeds the threshold will audible alerts again be heard.
This ability to keep a lid on urban false alarms isn't casual marketing hype. The biggest consumer gripe about radar detectors is excessive false alarms, particularly in town. The Korean-made radar detectors sold one large company are perhaps most famous for this trait but others are similarly afflicted. For many manufacturers, false alarms rise in lockstep with radar sensitivity. For example, even diehard fans of the extremely sensitive, hair-trigger Valentine One, currently the record-holder as the noisiest radar detector we've ever tested in town, will admit privately to being pestered by endless false alarms. If Valentine were to emulate Escort, adding GPS to the V1, it might well assist in quelling the din. But given Escort's stranglehold on the patents controlling GPS radar detector technology, that's very unlikely to happen.
For those not easily annoyed by back-seat drivers, the Overspeed feature can be engaged. Whenever a threshold speed is exceeded you'll be admonished, the voice of a concerned woman bleating "Warning! Overspeed!" as if perhaps the sunroof is in danger of blowing off. Depending upon your tolerance for being scolded, disabling the voice alerts while using Overspeed may be useful. Otherwise every trip north of that speed results in another tongue-lashing, exactly like having a mother-in-law sitting in back. (Mercifully, disabling the voice alerts takes about eight seconds using the preference settings menu.)
We sampled the Passport SC55 with several different BEL and Escort models including the BEL (Beltronics) Pro 500 and the Escort Redline, finding it to be a highly effective antidote to photo enforcement cameras while also significantly reducing urban false alarms. On the flip side, packaging both functions in a single radar detector is the more elegant and wieldly solution. We suspect that Escort offers the SC55 as a stopgap measure to owners loathe to shelve a perfectly usable 8500 X50, BEL STi Magnum or RedLine. But an alternative would be to dump the old detector on eBay—where experience has shown that a well maintained unit will still command a hefty price—and devote the funds to an Escort 9500ix instead.
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