Are Radar Detectors Illegal in My State?

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Millions of Americans use radar detectors and jammers every day. They are sold online and in many stores. But, you may have heard someone say along the way that these devices were not legal. So, what is the truth? Are radar detectors legal in your state?

Depends on State

Not every state treats these devices the same way, which is probably why so much confusion exists. While the laws vary, as a rule of thumb radar detectors are generally legal in private vehicles under the Communications Act of 1934 . Pursuant to the Act, owning a radar detector is legal and it is against the law for authorities to seize or destroy the device without arresting you for some other crime or as part of a search warrant since it is your personal property.

However, while it is legal to own these devices, it may not always be legal to use them. Two areas, in particular, have laws prohibiting the use of radar detectors while driving: Virginia and Washington D.C. Drivers caught using these devices in this area may be subject to ticketing. Most radar guns can detect whether a driver is using a radar detector (though some detectors have technology to mask their use), thus getting caught is actually quite easy.

Military Bases

While having and using radar detectors remains legal for private drivers in most states, using them on military bases is quite another matter. It is generally against the law to enter a military base with a radar detector visibly mounted in your vehicle. Of course, since most bases require drivers to cross a checkpoint, there is little chance of ticketing, fining, or arrest. The security personnel will simply ask the driver to remove the device and keep it out of sight while on military property before you will be allowed on base.

Commercial Vehicles

While it is acceptable for private drivers to use radar detectors almost everywhere, it is quite a different matter for commercial vehicle drivers. Under federal laws, all commercial vehicles over 10,000 pounds are prohibited from using radar detectors while in operation. Additionally, a number of states have their own laws prohibiting commercial vehicles from using radar detectors, including Illinois, New York, and New Jersey. Thus, professional drivers should avoid using radar detectors all together to avoid ticketing or license suspensions.

Windshield Mounting Laws

The other issue with radar detectors that often confuses people over their legality is where they can be mounted. While it is entirely legal to own and use a radar detector in California and Minnesota, mounting one on a vehicle's windshield will result in a ticket. Why? Because both states have laws against affixing anything to the windshield that might obstruct a driver's vision. While a number of other devices are routinely affixed to windshields in these states without concern, because of the nature of what a radar detector does, law enforcement officers tend to be more sensitive to their presence in vehicles and are more likely to ticket for them. It is worth noting that other states have laws regarding visual obstructions, as well, but are more strictly constructed so that the obstruction must actually pose a hazard (such as something directly in the driver's line of sight, tinting the front windshield, or reducing the field of vision with permanently mounted visors).

If a driver intends to use a radar detector, especially while traveling cross-country, it may be wiser to mount the device to a sun visor or on the dash.

Radar and Laser Jammer Laws

While radar detectors are generally legal across the US (except on military bases and for commercial drivers), radar jammers are illegal under federal law In fact, the use of a radar jammer is so serious, it could lead to a felony charge, hefty fine, and jail time in any state in which such a device is used.

Laser jammers, on the other hand, are not yet specifically banned by federal law. Radar jammers currently exist in a grey area because they have experienced regulatory issues with the FCC. Unlike radar jammers, which can impair not only police equipment but also ground control for airplane traffic, laser jammers are far less disruptive because they merely emit stray beams of light. Nevertheless, a number of states have already banned them, and most law enforcement agencies frown upon their use. States where laser jammers are already illegal include California, Colorado, Illinois, Minnesota, Nebraska, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia, and Washington D.C.


Disclaimer: While every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of this publication, it is not intended to provide legal advice as individual situations will differ and should be discussed with an expert and/or lawyer.

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