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Radar Detectors are Useless Now

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author photo by Doug DeMuro March 2017

I've recently come to a conclusion about radar detectors -- an item that many car enthusiasts have considered crucial to avoiding speeding tickets for the last few decades. And my conclusion is: these days, in these modern times, they're useless. It's over. There's simply no point in having a radar detector anymore.

I originally started reaching this conclusion a few months ago, when I drove across the country and back in my radar detector-equipped Aston Martin V8 Vantage. On this 6,000-plus mile road trip, I discovered two very important things: One, radar detectors are being beaten at their own game. And two, radar detectors don't really work on modern roads.

I'll start with number two: Radar detectors and modern roads don't really mesh all that well. Now, in the past when you got a radar detector, you could always count on it making its little chirping sounds and flashing its lights whenever you passed an automatic door (outside a shopping mall or a grocery store, for instance) because the technology they used was relatively similar to the technology radar detectors search for. And that makes sense.

But these days, it isn't just shopping malls. Here in 2017, virtually every modern vehicle on the road is equipped with blind spot monitoring, parking sensors, adaptive cruise control and lane keep assist, and all of those systems seem to use some form of technology that makes a radar detector go crazy with flashing and chirping. Seriously: Take a radar detector down a road in a nice area, where people tend to have new cars. Every time you see a Mercedes, or a BMW -- in fact, most Fords and Chevys, these days -- your radar detector will freak out. The number of false positives has gone from "annoying but acceptable" to "please shut up so I can listen to my music." If eight out of every nine radar detector chirps and flashes are fake, you start to simply not trust it. And then, what's the point?

And it's not just the false positives. Modern radar detectors are expensive -- and they're being beaten at their own game by much cheaper solutions. The best example of this, of course, is Waze -- a mobile app that lets users report police presence (and other potential road dangers) so you know when to slow down in order to avoid a ticket. I've noticed two things about Waze: One, that it's tremendously accurate. And two, that it's tremendously quick. Almost as quick as a radar detector, and certainly with fewer false positives.

The story I always tell about Waze comes from a true incident that happened to me once, a few months ago, as I was driving on the interstate in New Jersey late at night. My Waze app lit up and insisted there were "animals on the road ahead," which I openly laughed at. Animals move. How can an app on my phone possibly announce where animals are located?

Well, sure enough, less than a minute later, there they were: A herd of deer grazing and hanging out by the side of the road. I've trusted Waze a lot more since then.

And, of course, Waze doesn't just tell us about deer. While it suffers from some false positives as a result of taking a while to remove reports of police vehicles that may be looking for speeding drivers, Waze is generally pretty accurate -- and pretty quick -- at recognizing speed traps. If you're cruising down the highway and Waze tells you there's a police car ahead, you're likely to slow down -- a lot more so than if you're cruising down the highway and your radar detector goes off. When your radar detector goes off, the first thing you do is you start looking around for a car with adaptive cruise control.

All of this brings me back to my cross-country road trip. Early in the trip, I had the radar detector switched on, convinced I'd be able to thwart any potential speeding tickets I might receive. As the trip went on, I gradually switched -- ditching the constant chirping and flashing of the radar detector for the soothing sounds of the person in the Waze app. By the end of the trip, I was all Waze -- and I've never looked back. And, frankly, I don't think I ever will. Goodbye, chirping radar detectors. The modern world doesn't need you anymore.

Doug DeMuro is an automotive journalist who has written for many online and magazine publications. He once owned a Nissan Cube and a Ferrari 360 Modena. At the same time.

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Radar Detectors are Useless Now - Autotrader