Watching the Detectors
A real ‘hot potato’ in the motoring press for the last few years is that of speed cameras (or Gatso cameras as they are commonly known). This emotive issue was recently brought very much to the fore for me when last February I received a Notice of Intended Prosecution (NIP) from the Scottish Borders Police for allegedly speeding on the A68 through Jedburgh. This road is a 60mph single carriageway that traverses the borders. It is a fast road with around 20 ‘Gatso’’ cameras on a 50 mile stretch. There are two very noteworthy points about this; (1) there are no cameras on the English side of the border and (2) these cameras are positioned in such a way that everytime you pull out to overtake slow traffic (trucks etc) there seems to be a camera waiting to nab you! This means that you have to slow down whilst in the middle of overtaking and then speed up to finish. This is incredibly frustrating as it thwarts overtaking and compromises everyone’s safety. Now I got caught on camera whilst just finishing overtaking three cars. My terminal speed was 88mph for which I received 5 penalty points and a £225 fine. Cue condescending letter asking where my monies will go and the compromise of safety due to camera positions, then cue patronising reply not telling me anything apart from mentioning something about the Scottish Executive.
This was the end of my revenue generation I thought, so why not buy a radar detector? The first question I had was “Do these things work” A quick bit of research on websites like: www.speedtrapbible.com gave many reviews and useful road test features of the various detectors available. I then looked to EVO magazine as they did a review of the different types that you can buy in the UK. At first it is pretty confusing as there is a lot of talk about X Bands, K Bands, Laser etc. These are basically the different frequencies that the Police currently use for Gatsos’, Radar Guns, Laser Guns and Mini-Gatsos’ (which are mobile units found in ‘Camera Safety Vans’). The reviews did have some useful information, particularly how the detectors performed in tests. Here is a brief review of what I found;
Conventional Radar Detectors
These are what we commonly think of the traditional type of detectors. These work by picking up the signal transmitted by a Gatso or Speed (Radar/Laser) Gun that the Police currently use. As you approach a camera the detector will alert you though how much of a warning you get depends on traffic and how sensitive the detector is. As these detectors pick up certain frequencies this means that you will also be alerted to cameras on the other side of the road and get false alerts from automatic sliding doors! There are different options that you can select for driving in towns and on the motorway.
The best known brands that use this type of detection are the Beltronics range and Snooper. The current Bel range topper is the ‘Bel Euro 550’ (£380inc) and the Snooper S5 (£300inc). Both of these detectors offer detection of all common Police frequencies including Gatso, Mini-Gatso, Radar/Laser Guns but not Truvello Cameras or Specs. Truvello cameras are those big blue boxes that point towards you with three lines across the road in front of them. There are a few of these on the A14 (between the A1 and M11 through Cambridge). These cameras are not in widespread use. SPECS are the small cameras mounted on gantries positioned in the middle of the road. There are pairs of these positioned anywhere from 600m to 6Km apart. They take a digital photo of your car and then measure your average speed. If your average speed exceeds the limit, you’re nicked! Again these aren’t particularly common (currently found on the A610 in Nottingham) as they are very expensive.
Both of these conventional detectors also pick-up ‘Laser Guns’. These are the newest type of speed measuring devices that the Police carry around with them and point them out of their car windows at you every now and again when they are bored. The problem with Laser is that it only takes 0.3 secs to get your speed so if you have detected a laser the chances are you are already done for! Unless you can execute a nifty handbrake turn or can turn off before you reach them you’re nicked.
In the reviews the Bel 550 Euro performed the best with an average of around 400 yards before prior to a Gatso. This means lots of time to react and slow down. The Bel is also able to pick up Mini-Gatsos’ (expect at least one of these on the way out of Billing this year). It also has ‘presets’ for 12 countries in the EU! This detector though expensive had the best results. The Snooper faired less well giving less warning of an impending Gatso and more false alerts but for a budget detector it is still worth a look. Both the detectors use ‘shadow technology’ so that the Police won’t know you’ve sussed them! Cool eh?
GPS type detectors
These detectors work by using Global Positioning Satellites (GPS) to work out your position and then use the stored positions of all currently known cameras to work out if there are any in your immediate vicinity. They are able to alert you of any cameras within say a mile radius of where you are. They don’t actually detect cameras like the Bel or Snooper so they won’t pick up Mini-Gatsos’ or ‘speed traps’ set-up by mobile Police units. They will though know where SPECS and Truvello cameras are though. So how do they do it?
Here’s the clever bit! If you buy a Morpheus Geodessy (350) or Origin Blue i, (£400) you will receive an integral modem that allows you to update your ‘detector’ with any new camera sites. Basically you connect to your phone line and the ‘detector’ downloads all new camera sites. Furthermore you can add any new cameras you discover on your travels by pressing a button on the unit and then when you next update you will update everyone else as well!
These ‘detectors’ do not suffer from false alarms though the Geodessy which did very well in tests does pick up any camera within a mile radius so it could pick up a camera a few streets away. The Origin Blue i (thin on reviews) claims to even be able to determine your direction of travel and only alert you of relevant cameras on your side of the road.
Both the GPS & conventional detectors are legal. Until recently conventional radar detectors were not strictly legal as the (car hating) government (sorry to swear) deemed that they were “a licence to speed with impunity”. The main reason that both the Bel 550 & Snooper are legal is that they merely receive signals and do not transmit them, much like a radio does. There is nothing illegal in this. The position at the moment is that they are deemed legal but there is always a threat that should groups such as ‘Transport 2000’ get their way things won’t stay that way for much longer. The GPS ‘detectors’ do not suffer from this threat as they do not actually detect speed cameras, they just know where they are.
If you got caught with one of these you would really upset the Police, not to mention being liable for disrupting their speed guns! Let me explain. The ‘Laser Jammer’ (LE850) works by having a laser emitter fitted typically just beneath your front number plate and when a Police Laser Gun is detected by it sends out a burst of laser over a wide radius thus disrupting the Police Laser Gun and preventing them from getting a reading! According to tests (EVO) they do apparently work though as I have already said their legality is decidedly dodgy. The Laser Jammer costs around £280.
So which did I buy? I went for the Bel Euro 550. Why? Well to be honest I already know where the Truvello and SPECS cameras are, but as I travel a lot my most common encounters generally are Gatsos’. Also I have noticed an increase in activity with Mini-Gatsos’ strategically positioned on the exit to many ‘performance’ car shows (such as JAE last year).
And yes it really does work. What was really satisfying was finding those cameras that have been positioned behind road signs to catch you out! Bear in mind that cameras are supposed to be visible in order to warn drivers of an impending ‘accident black spot’. So in practice on approaching a camera my detector (sitting on top of the dash) will bleep and the frequency & Band will be displayed followed by an audible bleep and for example ‘K1’ to indicate K band and my proximity to the camera. As you get closer the number increases and the beeps get faster until you are right underneath the camera when the display will read ‘K9’ and all the LED levels are
As a final note I do not condone speeding, especially in built-up areas, though there are places on the open road such as the A68, where the MR2 simply comes alive. At times like these where the rhythm starts to flow, the needle is zinging round to the red-line in 3rd, the chassis is well compressed, the wheel is writhing in your hands and as you hook 4th the speedo hits 90. Oops!