Why Virginia is the only state in America where radar detectors are … – The Virginian-Pilot

Stock photo of radar detector from Wikipedia commons.
Virginia remains the only state where radar detectors in vehicles are illegal.
A curious reader wanted to know why. He asked The Pilot as part of its ongoing “Glad you Asked” feature, where we invite readers to submit questions to check out. Have a question of your own? Go to pilotonline.com/ask.
Radar detectors are in-vehicle devices that essentially alert drivers that police are using radar guns to detect speed. The goal is to avoid getting speeding tickets.
But why do Virginia and the District of Columbia stand alone while the other 49 states have lifted bans?
There’s no direct answer, but lawmakers and political observers say it comes down to a few things:
1. Why legalize something that essentially makes it easier to break the law?
2. Virginia can historically be slow to change its laws.
3. The detector technology, popular in the ’80s, ’90s and 2000s, is largely becoming obsolete.
Former state trooper and current Virginia State Sen. Bill Carrico said most people who use detectors are doing so to violate the law. Why should the state allow it?
He said law enforcement often picks up wanted criminals, drug trafficking and more through traffic stops. Legalize detectors, he says, and more would slip through cops’ fingers.
“I’ve never supported a change to the law,” Carrico said.
The ban on radar detectors in Virginia started in 1962. Similar laws have been enacted in other states only to be repealed over the years.
You can’t sell the devices in Virginia and you can get a traffic ticket that comes with a fine of no more than $250 if the device is accessible to drivers or passengers in a vehicle – even if it’s not being used at the time. Police can also confiscate the devices.
The General Assembly has proposed bills to change the laws over the years, but all have failed.
The 2010 repeal was defeated in the House 61-38. The 2015 repeal didn’t even make it out of committee.
Del. David LaRock, who pitched the 2015 bill to allow radar detectors at a constituent’s request, told a TV station that there’s no evidence the detectors improve highway safety.
“It’s never been shown that radar detectors cause accidents. It’s difficult and expensive to enforce, so there are a lot of reasons to repeal it,” LaRock said.
Google “why are radar detectors illegal in Virginia?” and you’ll get a crop of people opining about speed traps being a state cash cow. But it appears the state doesn’t know how the repeal of the detector ban would affect the bottom line, according to a fiscal impact statement for the 2010 bill.
“The proposed legislation could potentially affect revenue collected from the fines paid for this traffic violation; however, it is not possible to estimate the fiscal impact as data is insufficient and contributing factors are unknown,” the document read.
Virginia also can be slow to update or change seemingly archaic laws. It was only this year that the state increased its felony threshold for stealing goods from $250 to $500, finally joining the middle-of-the-pack of states after being in the basement for decades. It took years to eliminate the Sunday “blue laws” for liquor sales. There are also prohibitions on cursing and extramarital sex that are still on the books.
“In Virginia, we never rush into things,” Del. Joe May told a subcommittee hearing on his radar detector repeal bill in 2010. “This is one of those things that we haven’t rushed into, and I think it’s time we did.”
He said the law had outlived its usefulness and created an inhospitable climate for visitors passing through the state.
As for technology, the Virginia State Police say they use a number of different types of equipment, including LIDAR, “pacing” and VASCAR to catch speeders. The state police wrote 13,673 tickets in 10 months from 1990 to 1991, when radar detectors were more popular.
Carrico says newer police speed detectors have a “hold” button that doesn’t emit the radar until it’s needed, basically making the radar detection systems useful, but only after it’s too late and cops have got you clocked.
And on the consumer side, apps like Waze have used crowd-sourcing data to point out speed traps, largely making the detectors, which can cost up to $500, obsolete.
So why have other states changed it?
“Maybe they didn’t have a law enforcement officer in their legislature,” Carrico said.
Hampton Roads has plenty of curiosities. Ever think of a question you wish someone would answer?
If so, we want to hear from you through Glad You Asked. Readers send questions through an online form, and our newsroom picks three at a time for an online vote. The winner becomes a story.
So what makes you wonder? Visit PilotOnline.com/ask. We’re listening.
Jordan Pascale, 757-446-2276, jordan.pascale@pilotonline.com
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