The simple answer is that Radar detectors are only legal in private vehicles in New York. However, the radar detector must not be mounted to the windscreen with suction cups.
Using a radar detector in a "commercial" vehicle is illegal.
Interesting fact: If you’re caught with a radar detector in a commercial vehicle you can be given a ticket even if you’re not over the speed limit.
Radar detectors are also prohibited in any type of vehicle on military bases throughout the country (including New York).
What is a Commercial Vehicle?
The federal definition of a commercial vehicle is quite interesting and can catch you out if you’re not careful. It includes:
- Any vehicle with a gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR) of more than eighteen thousand pounds (Ref: 94-R-0240). This includes private vehicles.
- Vehicles that are designed to transport more than 9 or more passengers (including the driver) for compensation
- Vehicles designed to transport 16 or more passengers (including the driver) – even if it is not for compensation
- Vehicles that are carrying hazardous materials (Ref 49 U.S.C 5103) and require a placard.
- Vehicles being used to transport passengers or property "interstate" with a gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR) of more than ten thousand pounds (Ref: 49 S 392.71)
New York State Law redefines commercial vehicles to also include vehicles over 10,000 lbs that are not traveling "interstate". (See New York Laws section below)
You need to keep in mind that the definitions shown above are based on the maximum GVWR and a vehicle doesn’t have to be fully loaded for it to apply. Some heavy-duty pickups fall into this category!
Our recommendation is that if you are a professional driver, you should avoid using a radar detector in your vehicle to avoid the risk of large fines and license suspension.
No matter where you’re driving within the United States, federal laws apply.
Section 392.71 of the Transportation Federal Regulations specifically refers to using and possessing a radar detector in a commercial motor vehicle.
Federal Regulation 392.71 states that:
(a) No driver shall use a radar detector in a commercial motor vehicle, or operate a commercial motor vehicle that is equipped with or contains any radar detector.
New York State Law
The New York Vehicle and Traffic Law Section 397-A states that
No radar detector or laser detector shall be used in any motor vehicle with a gross vehicle weight rating of more than eighteen thousand pounds or in any commercial vehicle with a gross vehicle weight rating of more than ten thousand pounds.
This section reinforces that radar detectors cannot be used in any vehicle over 18,000 lbs. It also extends the ban to include laser detectors within New York.
It is not until you carefully consider the wording and jurisdiction of the regulation that you realize that the inclusion of commercial vehicles over 10,000 lbs in this clause has a slightly different meaning to federal regulation 392.71
To understand the difference, you need to refer to the New York City Department of Transportation Traffic Rules (Section 4-01) and its definition of a "commercial vehicle" (subsection ii and iii).
… a vehicle designed, maintained, or used primarily for the transportation of property, or for the provision of commercial services and bearing commercial plates will be deemed a commercial vehicle.
The key point here is that it doesn’t matter if the vehicle is traveling between states (interstate) or staying in its home county or city (intrastate). This definition is designed to address the gap in the federal regulations for commercial vehicles between 10,000 and 18,000 lbs.
The ban covers all commercial vehicles, trucks, and buses weighing more than 10,000 pounds or carrying nine or more passengers. It also includes all vehicles hauling hazardous materials.
If you are caught with a radar detector in these types of vehicles, you will be issued with a speeding ticket – even if you are not over the speed limit. (The same applies in Illinois and New Jersey)
Simply having a radar detector connected to a power source and in an operable condition is enough evidence of its use by the person operating the vehicle. It is up to the driver to prove otherwise.
The use of a radar detector on military bases is strictly prohibited throughout the United States.
This is not normally a problem as most bases have a checkpoint before you can enter. The security personnel usually request drivers to unplug and remove radar detectors from windscreens or dashboards before passing through the checkpoint.
The other thing you need to think about is how you intend to mount your radar detector.
Even though it may be legal to own and operate a radar detector, almost 70% of states have made it illegal to attach anything to a windscreen that may obstruct the drivers vision. (This includes New York)
The main reason for the law is because suction cups often fail and when they do, the radar detector will fall from the windscreen and end up around your feet. When you combine this with the attached power cables, it presents a real accident risk. Even when the devices are attached to the windscreen, the loose power cords can often get in the way of the driver.
While some states restrict the rules to devices attached with suction cups, others have rules based on the location of the device (directly in the drivers line of sight) or its overall size and weight.
Windscreen mounted radar detectors are especially easy for enforcement officers to spot when they’re looking at your windscreen, so the chances of getting a ticket are quite high!
A lot of law enforcement officers may turn a blind eye to windscreen mounted GPS devices. However, because radar detectors are designed to avoid law enforcement, they more likely to issue a ticket for them.
If you intend to use a radar detector, it may be wiser to mount the device to a sun visor or on the dash – especially when traveling interstate.
Even though radar "detectors" are legal, radar "jammers" have been highly illegal in all states under federal law since 1996.
FCC Public Notice DA 96-2040 states
Radar Jammers are transmitters tuned to interfere with (“jam”) a radar signal. The intentional use of jammers is considered “malicious interference” and is strictly prohibited by the Communications Act of 1934, as amended, as well as by FCC Rules. Anyone using a jammer risks such penalties as losing an FCC license, paying a fine, or criminal prosecution.
Section 333 of the Communication Act of 1934 states
Willful or malicious interference. No person shall willfully or maliciously interfere with or cause interference to any radio communications of any station licensed or authorized by or under this Act or operated by the United States Government.
Radar jammers or scramblers work by modifying or interfering with the signal that bounces off your vehicle before it returns to the enforcement officer. Some jammers do this by overwhelming the police radar gun and other change the Doppler signal or scatter the signal.
If you are caught with a radar scrambler or jammer, you could end up facing a felony charge and be liable for a large fine and/or jail time. The use of a radar jammer is a federal offense and also violates FCC regulations. The fine for a second offense can be as much as $10,000 and up to two years in prison. Even a first offense is up to a year in jail.
Laser jammers (vs laser detectors) are not banned by federal law.
A laser jammer works by detecting the laser light from a police laser gun. It decodes the signal and transmits bursts of invisible light back to the sender. When the light is at the right frequency and pulse rate, it confuses the laser gun and stops it from displaying your speed.
While radar jammers are banned by the FCC because they can cause serious issues for aircraft navigation, police radar equipment, and other radar controlled devices, laser jammers are a lot less disruptive because they only transmit stray beams of light to interfere with the incoming signal.
A number of states have taken steps to ban laser jammers. At the time of writing, the following states have laws in place to make it illegal to use a laser jammer.
- South Carolina
- Washington D.C.
You should always keep in mind that laws vary from state to state and if you live near a state line or travel interstate the laws may be different from your home area. This means you can easily break the law without realizing it.
This is especially true if you travel through Washinton D.C. or Virginia. These states have a complete ban of radar detectors (even in private vehicles) and they strictly enforce the ban.
1. Note that this article is expressing an opinion as to the legality of radar detectors and is not providing legal advice. I am not a lawyer and this is not legal advice. Laws can change over time so please do your own research.