September 10, 2011 (Original publish date) • By Dennis Beaver
Over the past two years, according to the California Highway Patrol, more of its 7,000 officers have been placed on overlapping, 12-hour shifts than ever before. According to one Highway Patrol officer interviewed for this article with our agreement to keep his identity hidden:
“Traffic enforcement officers, especially in California, have been instructed to give fewer breaks to motorists and to zero in on expensive registration, cell phone and fix-it violations and radar-based speeding citations which generate enormous amounts of money for states and cash-strapped cities.
“There are more officers on patrol than in the past, using radar for things which rarely even got a second look, such as going 5 or 10 miles an hour over the limit. Even quiet residential neighborhoods now seem to have a much higher police presence, radar guns in hand. The reason isn’t safety.
“If you want better hours or time off, write more tickets. This isn’t the case everywhere, but if you work for some cities and the State of California, you have become part of a giant vacuum cleaner, sucking money from people’s pockets. Most of the men and women who wear the uniforms of law enforcement do not like this one bit.”
“Get a radar detector and use it, in town and on the highway. This can provide enough of a warning when you are far from the traffic officer, allowing time to slow down and avoid getting a ticket,” he recommends.
Yet, while radar detectors are legal in California and most states, for some owners they have become expensive pieces of electronic junk. While generally valuable, there are now reasons to think twice about buying one, depending upon what features your present or next car will have.
The reason: Smart cars with radar-based safety features now sold in many newer cars and likely becoming required equipment in a few years.
It drives itself and drives the radar detector nuts
Adaptive Cruise Control (ACC) is a new term to most drivers. At one time only available as an expensive ($3,000) option in high end BMW, Mercedes, Lexus, Audi and some other makes, ACC virtually drives the car for you. It maintains your speed, and if a car moves into your lane, it slows you down to the speed of that vehicle, stopping your car if necessary, and when safe, resuming the speed you have selected.
Once set, you don’t touch the gas or brake pedals. ACC’s radar scans about 1,000 feet ahead. This is especially useful in fog, detecting vehicles hidden to the driver. Think California’s Grapevine, descending into San Joaquin Valley fog.
This feature – often sold with blind spot avoidance – are now available for under $1,000 on cars such as the Ford Taurus, Dodge Charger, Toyota Sienna and others.
But there is a problem with these devices. They can make your radar detector totally useless. Pete Kaufman, director of communications at Valentine One, gave us this analysis:
“Your radar detector is looking for police radar on specific bands. It is simple for the automaker to locate their frequencies far away and not interfere, but most do not care and many have placed theirs in the middle of the K-Band, the worst possible place.
“The result is that your radar detector will think it is seeing police radar, and you get false alerts. Then, when real police radar is present, you might not know it. Some detectors can be adjusted, but if your car is sending out radar squarely within a police band, it can be like having no radar detector at all,” Kaufman stated.
Auto manufacturers could easily solve the problem
“This is an auto manufacturer issue and they are well aware of this problem, which is very upsetting to their own customers. They do not need to transmit on K-Band and could easily use 13.45 Gigahertz, eliminating all problems,” Carl Fors, president of Speed Measurement Laboratories of Fort Worth, Texas, told us. He is recognized as the leading expert in both police radar and radar detection in North America.
“The other problem is that even if the manufacturer located its radar frequency on a safe spot on the band, over time, we know that frequency drift will occur. Auto systems are not checked for frequency stability when the car is in for service. Police radar must be recertified every three years, but this has not been applied to vehicle use of radar. In my opinion, carmakers are violating federal law,” he maintains.
Despite repeated emails and phone calls to BMW, Mercedes and other auto makers asking for their position, none of them replied. However, BMW has stated that ACC drifting off frequency is not covered by warranty.
With the exception of Peter Kaufman at Valentine One, not a single radar detector manufacturer would speak with us.
Dennis Beaver practices law in Bakersfield and enjoys hearing from his readers. Contact Dennis Beaver.