Forgotten car tech

I don’t recall thinking much about radar detectors since about the time that CB radios were the rage. Back in the early 80s, my dad always had one, and always upgraded to the latest technology when available. But I’ve never owned one, and it feels like you just don’t hear about them anymore.

That all changed when last year, I acquired a certain sports car.

Said car came equipped from its previous owner with a professionally-installed bracket for a Valentine One radar detector. There it was, just under the rear-view mirror, its power cable dangling slightly, its emptiness somewhat gnawing at me. I had to fill the space, and I did.

In the months that I’ve used the Valentine One since, I can confidently say it’s saved me from precisely one (1) speeding ticket, but I suppose that’s not really the point—at least not for me. I’d like to think I’m a pretty careful, pretty conscious, pretty reasonable driver. But I’m also not one to constantly look at my speedometer and make sure I’m clocking precisely to the speed limit or below. Nor am I always one to use a cruise control, especially around town when traffic conditions can vary considerably from one half-mile stretch the next. And for someone like me, it seems a radar detector is a rather nice driving companion. When it goes off, I check the speedo, adjust if needed, and move along. To me, it’s just a tool of situational awareness, not unlike any other tech tool for that, including lane change assistance and blind spot reduction and other warning systems that increasingly populate today’s cars.

The problem with a true sports car is that even just getting on the highway, you can end-up going much faster than you think you are both without even trying, and also not even noticing. I suppose I view the Valentine as a layer of protection for those very moments when I look down and realize I needed to let-up a few seconds ago. That window between the oops, noticing the oops, and correcting it? That’s the window where I value having the detector on-board.

The Valentine One is an interesting device from an interesting company. An example of a rare thing today—a tech product manufactured in the US—it’s designed by Mike Valentine, the engineer behind the original and much-hailed Escort radar detector. For years now, Valentine has instead been designing and tweaking and making his namesake detector product, declining to sell them in stores, touting the advantages of his technology, while eschewing bells and whistles of questionable value that keep showing-up in his competitors products.

Using the Valentine One is easy and intuitive, and there’s little to control other than the volume level. Valentine’s web site has all manner of detailed explanations of how radar and laser speed detection actually works, what the different bands mean, and how to interpret what the device is telling you. Lots to geek out on there, and it’s all an interesting read. But in the end, as I said, there’s really just not much to it.

The Valentine detects all three radar bands as well as laser, and reports them separately. It also provides an indication of the number of signal sources. With practice, the combination of band, signal count, and signal strength (also shown) gives the drive a good idea of the legitimacy of the alert.

The sensitivity of the Valentine One is superb. With radars, you generally get plenty of advance warning to check speed (depending on the type used). Laser speed detection is instantaneous and source-to-target, so while the Valentine detects laser speed guns, generally, if the detector goes off, it’s too late. Vigilance and awareness and not treating the interstate like the Indy 500 is still a good idea—detector or not.

Part of using the device is getting used to your local area. Most automatic doors these days use radar technology to detect when someone is standing at the entrance; radar detectors will pick them up, including the Valentine One. Different police departments use different radar bands too, so driving around town, you begin to learn where the automatic doors are along commonly traveled routes, and which departments use which bands. On the open road and in unfamiliar territory, one would be well advised to check speed regardless of the potential source of an alert.

As I implied earlier, having a radar detector isn’t a license to speed and drive like a crazy person. But it is a nice layer of protection for momentary lapses of awareness of just how fast you’re going, and I’ve found I rather like having the Valentine One around. That one clear save from a speeding ticket? That’s just a bonus.