How Radar Detectors Work


Two different lidar gun designs
Two different lidar gun designs
Photo courtesy K40 Electronics

­I­n the last section, we looked at the conventional radar guns police have been using since the 1950s. These days, more and more police departments are using laser speed guns rather than conventional radar. The basic element in a laser speed gun, also called a lidar gun (for light detection and ranging), is concentrated light.

The lidar gun clocks the time it takes a burst of infrared light to reach a car, bounce off and return back to the starting point. By multiplying this time by the speed of light, the lidar system determines how far away the object is. Unlike traditional police radar, lidar does not measure change in wave frequency. Instead, it sends out many infrared laser bursts in a short period of time to collect multiple distances. By comparing these different distance samples, the system can calculate how fast the car is moving. These guns may take several hundred samples in less than half a second, so they are extremely accurate.

Smile for the Camera!

Police may use handheld lidar systems, just like conventional radar guns, but in many areas, the lidar system is completely automated. The gun shines the laser beam at an angle across the road and registers the speed of any car that passes by (the system makes a mathematical adjustment to account for the angle of view).

When a speeding car is detected, the system triggers a small camera, which takes a picture of the car's license plate and the driver's face. Since the automated system has collected all of the evidence the police need, the central office simply issues a ticket and sends it to the speeder in the mail.

In the next sections, we'll see how detector devices help speeders evade radar and lidar speed traps. We'll also find out what the police can do to figure out who's using a radar detector.