A radar detector is a driver's best friend. The advantages that it gives a smart and responsible driver cannot be overstated, but most people are wary because they're unsure of the device's legality. The US's fractured state regulations compound this problem, especially for long-distance drivers. It's true, something legal in one state could very well garner you a fine or even serious jail time in another. But there's no reason to fear these amazing gadgets! As in most things, the best solution is education.
Here's the thing - most folks have nothing to worry about! The law varies from state to state, but radar detectors are generally legal in private vehicles under the Communications Act of 1934. It's a pretty dry read, so we've put together this helpful guide full of straight answers states' stances on detectors and jammers. After all, you wouldn't be buying a radar detector if you didn't like to get things done quickly!
States Where Radar Jammers and Laser Jammers Are Illegal
In the United States, radar jammers are illegal under federal law. Using a radar jammer could lead to you being charged with a felony, fined, and sent to jail in every single state. Laser jammers, on the other hand, aren't specifically banned. Radar jammers get jammed up with FCC regulations because they send out unregulated radio waves, but laser jammers don't cause nearly the same disruption to police equipment because they emit only a beam of light. Sounds like a technicality? It is. Laser jammers haven't yet been banned by federal law but there are several states which have rallied against its use. The following states have laws in place against the use or ownership of a laser jammer:
- South Carolina
- Washington D.C.
States Where Radar Detectors Are Illegal
The Communications Act of 1934 made owning a radar detector legal and made it against the law for authorities to destroy the device now that it is considered personal property. However, two areas on the East Coast strictly prohibit radar detectors: the state of Virginia and Washington D.C. No way around it - if you're caught with a radar detector in either place, you will be ticketed and have the device taken away from you unless a judge decides otherwise. How will they know you have a radar detector? Because the patrolmen are all using radar detector detectors and unless you have an absolute top-of-the-line radar detector that masks its signal, they'll know you're breaking the law.
Military Bases: The Exception to the Rule
Even in a state where radar detectors are 100% perfectly legal, it's still against the law for you to enter a military installation with one visibly mounted to the sun visor or windshield. Don't worry, you won't be fined or jailed for having a radar detector - you'll simply be asked to remove it until you leave the base. If you refuse to turn the device off and store it out of sight, you will not be granted admittance to the military grounds.
Heavy Vehicle, Heavy Fine
Under U.S. federal law, it's illegal for any and all commercial vehicles over 18,000 pounds to operate a radar detector. In the following states, state law expands that to commercial vehicles over 10,000 pounds:
- New York
- New Jersey
Yikes! Windshield Mounting Laws.
It's perfectly legal to own and operate a radar detector in the states of California and Minnesota, but if you have one mounted to your windshield you will be ticketed! How's that, you ask? Both states have laws against affixing anything to your windshield that an officer could consider an obstruction of a driver's vision. That means cellular phone clips, GPS holders, cartoon cats with suction cups on their feet, and especially radar detectors! If you're going to use such a device in one of these states, try and clip it to your sun visor instead.
Legality in Canada
Canada is not as radar detector-friendly as the United States of America. In fact, the only provinces where a radar detector is legal are:
- British Columbia
All other territories frown upon the use of the device so much that police officers are authorized to confiscate your radar detector whether it is operational or not. Authorities in Quebec may even penalize you up to $500 CAD for possessing a radar detector before confiscation. It should also be noted that radar jammers are illegal all throughout Canada just like they are in the United States.