Car owners guide to: Car Accessories > Radar Detectors

The current penalties for speeding on UK roads are necessarily punitive, progressing from points on the licence and a fixed fine, to driving bans of 6 months or longer. Insurance premiums can increase for drivers with multiple speeding fines. No surprise then that drivers are keen to be 'reminded' when they are travelling at speeds in excess of the local limit.

Current UK law allows the use of a Speed Camera Detector to provide warnings of both fixed and mobile speed camera locations. However, the Government continues to review detector technologies in the UK and has been talking up a ban of certain types.

Devices that warn the motorist by actively detecting a camera ahead (speed camera detectors, but not GPS mapping devices) could be made illegal if measures proposed in the Road Safety Act 2006 pass into law. The 2005 Road Safety Bill stated that "Devices which interfere with or detect the proper functioning of such cameras have only one purpose: to tell drivers when they can break speed limits and get away with it. This is unacceptable, it prevents the police from carrying out their duties, and is a danger to other law-abiding road users.

"The Government will not be prohibiting those devices that rely on Global Positioning System (GPS) technology to warn drivers of published camera sites or posted speed limits, as these compliment the Government's policy to ensure that camera sites are visible and conspicuous to drivers, and so help deter excessive and inappropriate speeds on the roads. However, the provisions of the Bill mean it will be possible to prohibit a vehicle being fitted with, or a person using a vehicle carrying 'speed assessment equipment detection devices' under the Construction and Use Regulations (SI 1986/1078)."

The key issue here is that active detectors allow drivers to ignore speed cameras that are inactive at the time, whereas GPS navigation mapping merely makes drivers aware of speed camera locations and have no way of checking whether they are currently active or not.

To the best of our current knowledge, the purchase and installation of a Radar or Laser detector is legal (but 'buyer beware' is the message here - this page is not constantly updated, so check the latest legal position at the point you have one installed). Their use was also deemed legal following a judgement of the Queens Bench Divisional Court on 29 January 1998. This looked at the legality of the devices from the point of view of their wireless transmission. The Court concluded that the radar transmission did not contravene regulations of the Wireless Telegraphy Act 1949, or as amended by the Post Office Act 1969.

It is prudent, however, to make your own judgement or, better still, seek legal advice before purchasing and operating a speed camera detector, as laws are always open to interpretation and revision. We will not be held responsible for any prosecutions resulting from use of any detectors.

It is very important to distinguish between Detectors and Jammers. Radar and Laser Jammers are prohibited under the Road Safety Act (2006), but even without the power of this act, the police could well instigate a prosecution on the basis of obstruction and perversion of the course of justice. This is sufficiently severe that it could lead to a custodial sentence.

In their defence of detectors as a pro-active aid to driving safety, manufacturers and installers of the devices point to several research findings. In one research poll, conducted by MORI in May 2001, the organisation was asked to evaluate the driving habits, behaviour and accident rates of radar detector users compared with drivers who did not use a radar detector. This gave the following findings:

Users claimed to travel 50% further between accidents than non-users, and 75% of users claimed to be more aware of keeping to the speed limit since they purchased a detector.

60% of users claimed to have become a safer driver since purchasing a radar detector, but of more significance was that radar detector users appeared to have 24% fewer accidents, and users on average drove 73,952 miles further between accidents than non radar detector users.

We all know that research can be spun to show in favour or against any particular issue, and thus, generally, only ever gives balance to what might otherwise become a one-sided argument. What seems clear to us is this: owning a detector should never be seen as having a licence to speed. Speed limits have been set for the safety of all road users, and adhering to set limits is paramount. There is a strong argument that detectors improve awareness of local speed limits, leading to increased driver alertness to accident black spots. And that owning a detector is not necessarily a sign that someone intends to drive over the speed limit, any more than not using one is a sign that the driver will always drive responsibly.

It also seems clear that outlawing detectors will not stop those drivers who are intent on speeding from continuing to do so.

Detecting the Detectors

If legislation banning the use of active speed camera detectors is introduced, police will clearly need some reliable way of spotting anyone using these types of devices, and that's not going to be too difficult. All radio receivers - which is basically what these devices are - not only pick up radio signals, they also emit them. This means that any radar detector, whether it has a jammer or not, broadcasts a tell-tale radio signal whenever it is turned on. By using a high-powered radio receiver tuned to the frequency of the signals emitted by radar detectors, the police are able to detect their use.

Passive devices that merely provide updateable mapping, showing Gatso (fixed camera) locations, do not in general transmit signals and, as mentioned earlier, the government has made clear that these are considered legal and an aid to safe driving. Suppliers of detectors are increasingly promoting these systems in order to reassure buyers that they will not find the equipment illegal to use in future. However, such systems are only as accurate as the data loaded into them, and they cannot accurately show the location of portable enforcement systems (though mapping will often indicate zones where portable equipment is likely to be in use).

Should I or shouldn't I?

The decision on whether to buy a speed camera warning detector must sit with you and you alone. Until the government passes legislation banning the devices, there is a strong argument in favour of having one fitted if you spend a fair amount of time on the road. It can be all too easy to miss speed limit signs when a driver is concentrating on the traffic and what route to take in an unfamiliar area.

Several GPS Navigation Systems have the ability to show speed limits on-screen, and some, including the Clarion MAP680, reinforce this with a spoken warning, but this data often dates quite quickly as many rural roads are now being changed from 40 to 30, or even 20 MPH. Devices that are primarily intended for route guidance tend not to have their databases updated regularly, and so can become quickly out of date. However, standalone speed warning units and the hybrid devices integrated with Sat-Nav features can have camera location data updated as often as daily if required.

The bottom line is this: Advanced warning of speed restrictions and accident black spots, whether permanent or temporary, can prevent drivers from inadvertently driving dangerously. That's in everybody's interest, so if we have technology to help make driving safer, why would anybody wish to ban it?

Radar and Laser Detectors are currently legal to buy, install and use on UK roads, but the provisions of the Road Safety Act (2006) may change this if it becomes law. As of now, those elements of the Act have not passed into law. However, there were reports that some police forces confiscated legal devices, despite the fact that the law did not give them the power to do so.

Radar and Laser Jamming Devices should not be installed or used - they should be considered illegal, whether technically they are or not. There is every chance the police could bring a succesful prosecution to court.

Camera locations shown on electronic mapping devices (typically Satellite Navigation units or hybrid Sat-Nav units where camera location data can be regularly updated, usually by payment of an annual or monthly fee) are legal to use on UK roads and will not fall under legislation proposed under the Road Safety Act (2006).