Friday, September 16, 2016

Disguised Speed Camera Nabs Violators

A driver speeding through a school zone in Scottsdale, Arizona can be greeted by a dazzling flash from an innocuous roadside box. Days later a ticket arrives in the mail. Tally up another victim of the Portable School Tower.

These nondescript boxes are automated-ticketing units containing a K-band radar, microprocessor, digital camera and powerful strobe flash. The assembly is light enough for a crewman to move it among locations near area schools.

The Portable School Tower is a product of American Traffic Solutions (ATS), one of the firms dominating the U.S. photo enforcement market and also headquartered in this metro Phoenix city. The company often tests new technology on local streets before rolling it out nationwide.

Fortunately, this is the same radar used in ATS photo radar vans and it can be detected—but only by a hypersensitive radar detector. Most don't alert until it's too late. Learn more...

Friday, July 29, 2016

Tested: Escort Max 360 vs. Escort Redline XR

The Escort Max 360 (right) uses GPS to limit false alarms. In theory, that should make it quieter than the Escort RedlineXR (left).
In a test to see which is better at resisting false alarms, by rights the Escort Max 360 should humiliate the Escort RedlineXR.

Although priced identically, on paper at least the Max has an unbeatable advantage: a combination of GPS, advanced digital signal processing, a rear radar antenna and arrows that point toward the threat.

GPS alone should be enough to tip the scales. It lets the Max 360 identify and lock out nuisance signals causing false alarms. The technology also dials back sensitivity at lower speeds to further limit bogus alerts.

Under controlled conditions we tested these Escort radar detectors to measure maximum range, speed of response and the number of false alarms. Then we logged a few thousand highway miles with each.

Some surprises were in store. Learn more...

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Best radar detector?

"What's the best radar detector?" Depends on the criteria. But we can offer an opinion on which ones best protect against speeding tickets.

We compared test-winning windshield-mounted models with an equal number of built-in detectors. Prices ranged from $299 to $1999.

Included: Escort Passport X70, 9500ci, 8500ci, Redline XR; Beltronics Pro 500, STiR Plus.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Review: Escort Max 360 Secrets Revealed

Not long ago, I was embedded in a miles-long ribbon of vehicles gridlocked on I-10 in remote southeastern Arizona. For nearly an hour we alternately stopped, inched forward, then stopped again interminably while first responders struggled to clear a multi-vehicle crash ahead.

Although few cars were passing by in the opposite lanes, every few minutes my Escort Max 360 would inexplicably bark a K-band alert. I logged eight in the 54 minutes we sat there.

After studying the numeric frequency and signal strength of each alert, finally a pattern emerged: it was alerting to the Blind Spot Monitoring radar transmitters in nearby vehicles. As impatient drivers changed lanes and jockeyed for position, a radar beam once blocked by other vehicles would be unmasked momentarily, generating an alert.

These vehicular radar systems use a frequency shared with police radar and to a detector, the two look identical. Still, the Max 360 seemed to be inordinately affected by these radar pests.

When we later performance-tested the Max 360 one explanation for this behavior was revealed: it has stupendous range on K band. Better even than the fabled Escort Redline. Not the advantage it might seem since, unfortunately, state highway patrol agencies almost universally employ a different frequency—Ka band.

A second reason for the chatty nature also emerged: its rear antenna. The Max 360 is the first Escort to have a rear-facing antenna, allowing it to indicate the direction of an incoming radar beam. But coupled with hypersensitivity on K band, the most noticeable effect of the rear antenna is to double the number of false alarms.

In a typical scenario let's say the Max 360 alerts to a distant K-band radar. Signal strength climbs as the source is approached until finally, it mercifully falls silent.  But not for long. After the radar is passed, the rear antenna spots it and another alert begins.  Instead of one alert lasting, say, 15 seconds, now we get two that last a combined 30 seconds.
We noticed other behavioral oddities in the Max 360 during an extended five-month, 5,700-mile evaluation.  For the backstory on this complex—not to mention pricey—model see the Escort Max 360 review.