The Law regarding Radar Detectors


It has been announced that the new Road Safety Bill will be dropped.


Within a year radar and laser detectors could be illegal. Here's the government's own wording:

"The intention is to ban the jammers and detectors through legislation in a Road Safety Bill. It is proposed that the Bill will contain prospective powers for the Secretary of State to make an order prescribing what would be illegal to carry and use in a vehicle."

"The speed enforcement detectors and diffusers undermine the use of all speed enforcement equipment. Their use allows drivers to believe they can speed unless alerted to the presence of speed enforcement. That would run the very real risk of reversing the trend in reducing those killed or seriously injured on our roads resulting in economic costs to the community."

"Should legislation be brought in, the road safety benefits are clear. The existing GPS systems can contain information including the location of all approved speed camera sites in the country and the speed limits that apply there. Providing this information to drivers can only improve the prospects of drivers amending their speeds in order to comply with limits at or near camera sites.

What these systems cannot do is detect the presence of a speed enforcement device as one is approached. This means that the police can retain the ability to enforce speed limits as a normal part of their traffic duties. We do not know how many SEDDs [speed enforcement detection devices] have been sold or are likely to be sold. We are confident that very few diffusers are now being sold. They have been found to be unreliable in comparison to the GPS systems."

"There is no difficulty with drivers carrying in their vehicles devices that inform them of the location of fixed safety cameras and cameras operating from mobile units. These have the same intention as the signing, visibility and conspicuity rules that form part of the financial scheme under which most cameras are placed. These devices operate currently under Global Positional Systems (GPS). They work by keeping the position of cameras up to date on a computer and identifying where they are in relation to a vehicle by use of a satellite. There is no intention to ban these.

"There are two other types of devices that we are seeking to ban. The first is the jammers. These devices prevent cameras from working by deflecting the beam issued by the camera equipment or preventing the beam from emitting. They are particularly dangerous in that they prevent speed enforcement cameras from operating and therefore allowing drivers to continue to speed past the camera site. Also contained within this definition are those sprays, materials, etc that obstruct the view of a number plate.

"We are also seeking to ban the carriage of radar detectors. These identify where cameras are by sending out a radar beam that detects the signal emitted by the camera equipment. There are two problems with these -

They can set off non-camera equipment such as automatic doors and may interfere with satellite TV
More importantly, the police have genuine concerns about the use of detectors. In addition to camera deployment within the safety camera cost recovery scheme the police also undertake covert activity and speed limit enforcement as part of their normal traffic duties. The fact that these devices can detect both covert camera activity and non-camera/cost recovery laser/radar guns could seriously effect their ability to enforce speed limits as part of their normal traffic duties."


The European Court of Human Rights has accepted eight motorists' applications claiming that S172 of the 1988 Road Traffic Act breaches the right to silence implicit in Article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

Based on the fact that you are forced into a confession by being given an ultimatum of 'either confess to this crime or we will convict you of another crime carrying a similar or even worse penalty'. This goes directly against the 'right to silence'.

for Stuart;

an update on our conversation regarding a point of law...

To say you don't remember who was driving at the time is very different to refusing to name the driver (an offence under section 172 of the road traffic act).

The Human Rights Act doesn't cover you for refusing to name the driver as there is a greater good to the public which overrides it.

But there's never been a law against forgetfulness! (Hey, it worked for Ronald Reagan!)


It was recently reported in the Daily Mail that ACPO (Association of Cheif Police Officers) where considering endorsing the use of speedtrap detectors. With the argument that their aim is to reduce speeds in the speedtrap areas and that speedtrap detectors do acheive this result.
Daily Mail, October 18, 2001
" Ministers had been seeking to close a loophole to ban them, but now they are having a rethink with a view to giving formal 'police approval' to many of the devices, so motorists will know when they are approaching traps."

Since 29th January 1998 it has been completely legal to sell, buy, own and use a radar detector in the UK.
In fact it never was illegal. The Police had been falsely prosecuting individuals for breaking the law with regard to the use of radar detectors. Saying that to collect information from the radar source was some sort of contravention of the Wireless and Telegraphy Act of 1949. The Police radar does not contain any form of information that is covered in the Act so therefore this argument becomes invalid.

"A judgement of the Queens Bench Divisional Court dated 29th January 1998 makes it clear that the use of Radar Detectors is not unlawful as has hitherto been claimed by some. In the past a few prosecutions have been brought by claiming the use of radar detectors was contrary to section 5(b)(I) of the Wireless Telegraphy Act 1949 as amended by section 3 of the Post Office Act 1969. However the Acts refer to the interception of wireless communications for the purpose of obtaining information as to the content, sender or addressee of any message. The Court concluded that the radar transmission was not communicating a 'message' and therefore equipment designed to detect the presence of the transmission could not decode any such message. It was further stated that section 1(1) of the Act, which requires a licence for the reception of radio signals, has been superseded by the Wireless Telegraphy Apparatus (Receivers)(Exemption) Regulations (SI 1989 No123) which exempts radar detectors and similar equipment from the need for such licences."

"Watching the Detectives"
By Andrew English -
Motoring correspondent for the Daily Telegraph - UK.

As the police rake in increasing amounts of cash from speed fines, Andrew English wonders whether they're as keen on saving lives as they claim to be, and looks at the pros and cons of high-tech devices that warn drivers of the traps..

THE last time I wrote about speed, the Motoring desk received a very heavy postbag indeed. So I approach the subject again with considerable caution.

In the UK, Gatso speed cameras have been a blessing and a curse for the authorities. Estimates of last year's total fine revenue from the UK's 3,000 speed cameras are in excess of 180 million, but purchasing and maintaining cameras, plus the administrative costs of issuing the tickets, is taking its toll on police budgets.

As a result, the police have successfully called for a higher fixed-penalty speeding fine, part of which (after tickets issued have exceeded the previous year's total) will go to the constabulary in question. The new system is being tested this year.

Suddenly, it is in the interests of the police to deploy more speed cameras and to make more use of those they have. The Thames Valley force is currently studying exactly what it costs to issue a speed ticket, the hidden agenda being that senior coppers would like to see 40 fixed-penalty notice become a 100 fine. This could happen if they can make a convincing case that speed tickets cost nearly as much as they generate. Warwickshire Police, who are adopting dozens more speed cameras and employing extra officers and civilian staff to process the extra fines they will produce, call their strategy, with a revealing candour, "a business plan".

At the same time, speed limits are generally being lowered, as is the speed at which a ticket is issued. In some forces' areas, cameras are set at less than the Association of Chief Police Officers' guideline figure of the speed limit plus 10 per cent and 2mph.

These actions are justified with two simple arguments. The first, and most convincing, is that all speeding is against the law. It was Scotland Yard commissioner Paul Manning who blustered that Britain's 30 million drivers should be fined if they are caught at just 1mph above the limit, although he subsequently engaged in some fabulously undignified mud-slinging with the Mail on Sunday, which claimed to have caught him travelling in his official car at 43mph in a 40mph area.

The trouble with this point of view is that when speed limits and the speed ticket threshold are continually being revised downwards, it becomes much easier and more lucrative to catch motorists. And if the lower speed limits are seen as ludicrous by a significant majority of drivers, then the law falls into disrepute and is ignored.

The second argument is that "speed kills", and that to question the actions of the police or government advisers is therefore to condone last year's 3,421 road deaths.

Difficult to get past this one; like all good propaganda, the slogan appears to offer a simple explanation and a solution for a complex problem and has therefore been widely accepted. In fact, although studies differ slightly as to the effect of speed on road accidents, most (with the notable exception of the unelected and hectoring government adviser Robert Gifford) agree that excessive speed is a major factor in only between seven and 15 per cent of accidents. In fact, it is poor judgement (which may include inappropriate speed) that is the major factor. The plain truth is that if drivers were educated in the fundamental principle of matching speed to vision - or, as our safe driving expert Paul Ripley puts it, always being able to stop safely well within the distance you can see to be clear ahead - speeding would no longer be a hazard. In fact, there would be very few road accidents of any description.

It is also arguable that the justification for the "speed kills" slogan is a wilfully emotive combination of two related statistics: more than 6,000 children are "killed or seriously injured" on British roads each year, and it is said that lower speeds would reduce this awful death toll. However, without being in any way complacent or diminishing the tragedy of individual cases, the detailed statistics give a rather different impression: of the 43,445 children hurt in road traffic accidents in 1998, 5,873 were seriously injured but just 207 were killed, of whom 1,151 and 64 respectively were in cars at the time.

The idea that a crackdown on speeding is intended to save lives is seriously undermined by the siting of speed cameras and most police speed traps, which, far from being placed around schools, playgrounds and accident blackspots, as might be expected if speeding were so very dangerous, are generally placed on long, wide stretches of road where a high number of motorists can be expected to exceed the limit. In addition, far from being used as an obvious deterrent to reduce traffic speeds, cameras are painted a dull grey and are often hidden behind other road furniture. There is also considerable evidence to show that speed cameras don't do much to reduce accidents or speeding, but that they do increase feelings of persecution among people who previously were inclined to be pro-police, and even lead to an increase in the number of accidents in surrounding streets that don't have cameras.

I consider the police have been less than honest about the introduction of speed cameras. When I interviewed London's top traffic policeman in the early Nineties, the uniformed Kevin Delaney was the calm voice of authority. No, he said, Gatso cameras were not being introduced to get at motorists, but were a safety device that would be used in areas where speed was a crucial safety issue, such as near schools.

Ten years on, Delaney works for the RAC Foundation, and says he feels "bitterly let down by the way Gatsos have been introduced. It wasn't what I or any of my colleagues saw as the aim of the experiment when we signed up to it."

Delaney reckons that once the principle of allowing the police to keep a proportion of the speeding fines has been allowed, there will be a conflict of interest, where money becomes a factor. "It doesn't surprise me in the slightest," he said of the ratcheting down of the threshold speeds, or the recent order for 2,000 extra speed cameras for use in and around the London M25 orbital Motorway.

I asked Delaney what he would say if I told him I'd been using a radar detector recently. "I wouldn't have a problem with that," he said, "provided you'd been using it responsibly."

And that's exactly what I have been doing after receiving a number of letters inquiring whether radar detectors were worth their price (quite high, as it turned out).

Two years ago a judge ruled that the use of a radar detector was legal in the UK, as the use of one could not strictly be described as the interception of police wireless transmissions within the Wireless and Telegraphy Act.

I last tested a radar detector around 10 years ago; it was rubbish. It could detect every mobile phone, garage door opener, bank machine and microwave oven within a 10-mile radius and, as a consequence, it never stopped crying wolf. After a week of pointless ear bashing, I wrapped it up and sent it back.

But time and technology march on. The Beltronics 990 International costs a whopping 400, although as importer Glyn Worsley of Complimentary Technology pointed out, it did achieve outstanding results in separate independent tests run by Auto Express and Evo magazines. What the tests showed was that if you paid attention and were fast on the brakes, you could avoid a speeding ticket from hand-held radar and laser cameras, as well as fixed and portable Gatso cameras.

I was still sceptical, so Worsley sent three Bel units for test. All the units come with a choice of three fixing alternatives (Velcro, rubber suckers or a sun-visor clip), two power leads (coiled or straight) and a cigar lighter power plug. Operation is a simple matter of plugging in the unit and turning the ignition key. An electronic voice and a series of squawks and rings accompanies the start-up sequence, then all is quiet (hopefully) with either "Highway" or "City" on the LED display.

Beltronics claims the unit is undetectable in use and that it can be upgraded with new software should the forces of law and order alter frequencies or invent an all-new method of detection.

And that really is about it. The Bel sits on the dash and (mostly) warns about speed cameras and lasers - in other words, it does exactly what it says on the box. It tells you which M25 gantries have live cameras and it could (if the authorities chose to employ laser beacons) warn you of school crossing patrols or of service vehicles blocking the hard shoulder on motorways.

It does cry wolf occasionally; it is convinced there's a laser-toting cow in a field near the A3 in Surrey and it goes mad at petrol stations. It also engenders a degree of paranoia in the driver, to the extent that far from whizzing around everywhere at illegal speeds, I've actually slowed down over the past weeks. Part of the reason is that you can't always stand on the brakes and cruise gently past a speed camera; if there's following traffic, a vehicle about to move into your lane or whatever, you can only safely reduce speed by lifting off the throttle. If you are going too fast, that won't be enough to stop the camera flashing and the arrival of a ticket in the post.

Nor will a radar/laser detector protect you from any kind of time/distance speed trap, such as VASCAR or the new Speed Police Enforcement Camera Systems (SPECS), which times cars over a known distance using digitised images of their registration plates. So the detector will not save your licence and can never be a substitute for good observation and appropriate control of your speed.

Speeding is neither big nor clever, and inappropriate speed in the wrong place puts lives at risk. If you killed or injured someone while driving irresponsibly, you would regret it every day for the rest of your life; for that reason alone, I am reluctant wholly to recommend a radar detector. On the other hand, it can give you the vital early warning of a hazard that the police in just about every other European country seem to think is part and parcel of the installation of speed cameras, frequently painted in bright colours to enhance their deterrent effect and slow traffic at accident blackspots. That's something the British police seem to have forgotten in their dash for cash.

Bucks Free Press
Joe Slade

Stuart Cookson hit back at suggestions that the detectors helped people break the law.
He said "We see them as a safety device. Local councils put up road signs in accident black spots or risk areas. If you've got a warning that this is a risk area you would take even more care."

Mr Cookson said police and councils where being short sighted in wanting to see radar detectors banned when they could be used positively. He pointed out that a survey in the USA had discovered that drivers who use detectors where involved in fewer accidents.

He said " You've got a piece of technological equipment which can really help the motorist cut down on accidents and stop people speeding."