Aussie police grapple with defective detectors

Last updated 09:48 24/07/2008

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Supposedly high-tech scanners bought by NSW Police this year to catch motorists with speed radar detectors installed in their cars are unable to detect some models, tests have shown.

Earlier this year Police Minister David Campbell announced 50 highway patrol cars in NSW would be fitted out with the scanner devices, confusingly dubbed radar detector detectors (RDDs).

Mr Campbell said the scanners - made by Queensland company Stealth Micro Systems with the model name Spectre - would cost police A$4000 (NZ$5119) each.

Motorists caught with a radar detector could be fined more than A$1200 and lose nine demerit points.

However, tests performed by radar detector sellers and an independent testing body have found that the Spectre scanners are useless at detecting at least two models, the Beltronics STI Driver and the newer Escort Passport 9500ci, which are freely available to buy in Australia.

Radar detectors were banned from being sold or used in NSW 21 years ago, but they are still legal for sale in other states such as Western Australia. That means police are powerless to stop people from buying them from online stores interstate, such as radars.com.au.

Police say the use of the detectors encourages dangerous driving as people could speed without fear of being caught.

Nick Balgowan, owner of radars.com.au, said the number of undetectable radar detectors was growing and even a budget radar detector was electronically much quieter than models from several years ago.

"All the radar detector manufacturers have the police scanners so they're working on ways around it all the time," he said.

Balgowan, who has worked in the industry for 10 years and has first-hand experience testing the technology, said the police scanners were designed to detect electronic noise emitted by the devices. However, the A$800 Beltronics and A$2500 Escort models include metal plates that prevent the noise from leaking out.

Tests conducted by Speed Measurement Laboratories, which tests radar detectors and related technologies for manufacturers and law enforcement agencies around the world, also found that the Beltronics model was undetectable by the Spectre police scanners.

The Escort 9500ci is based on the same design as the Beltronics model but includes a built-in police laser jammer.

The US distributor of the Spectre scanners, Stalker Radar, admits on its website that the devices are capable of detecting "all but two" radar detectors.

Further, even non-stealth radar detector models, such as the A$495 Whistler XTR690, could detect the police scanner long before the motorist was caught because even the RDDs - which are essentially modified radar detectors - produced noise, Balgowan said.

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The Sydney Morning Herald asked NSW Police if it was aware that the RDDs it uses were not completely effective, and whether the revelations would undermine its efforts to catch radar detector users.

The traffic services commander, Chief Superintendent John Hartley, said: "Our RDD are state of the art and the software is immediately upgradeable by our supplier to combat any new radar detectors that are introduced on the market."

Balgowan, who said he had not received a single report of a customer being caught by police in more than two years, dismissed the response as nothing more than "scare tactics".

"They can upgrade their RDD software to scan more or wider frequencies when radar detector manufacturers bring out new radar detectors with mixers on different frequencies," he said.

"But as some of these designs have either no detectable emission (microwave or radio waves essentially) or extremely low emissions, then there is simply nothing for the police RDD to even look for."

 

- Sydney Morning Herald

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