This blog will expand on themes and topics first mentioned in my book, "The Automobile and American Life." I hope to comment on recent developments in the automobile industry, reviews of my readings on the history of the automobile, drafts of my new work, contributions from friends, descriptions of the museums and car shows I attend and anything else relevant to those interested in automobiles and auto history. Copyright 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015 , 2016 by the author.
Wednesday, July 13, 2016
A Brief History of Automobile Radar Detectors
Bill Waytena, inventor and entrepreneur, Radatron Detector
Drivers unhappy with the “double nickel” speed limit also created a
mass market for radar detectors.Beginning in the early 1950s, Police effectively used Doppler-effect
radar systems to keep down speeds on busy highways, and reduce alarming
The American Automobile Association denounced the use of these devices, and
drivers first tried to scramble signals by putting tin foil and steel marbles
in their hubcaps, only to be charged with obstruction of justice if caught.
In 1955 more than 20% of all speeding arrests were
achieved by radar, with conviction rates between 90-100%. Radar detectors were
soon built by electronic hobbyists, perhaps the most famous being John Davis
Williams, a RAND Corporation scientist who had expertise in statistical radar
detection for military applications. In 1958 the amateur radio magazine CQ published an article entitled “Radio
Speedmeter Receiver.”The technology for
that device was ingeniously modified to create the first commercially available
radar detector, the Radar Sentry that was featured on the cover of the
September, 1961 issue of Popular
Electronics.The Radatron remained in the marketplace until
the early 1970s. but was replaced by a host of competitors with names like
Fuzzbuster, Bearfinder, Road Patrol, Wawassee Alley Cat, Snooper, and Whistler.
The best perhaps, was the ElectrolertFuzzbuster, developed by Dale T. Smith. Smith, a Harvard educated
scientist working at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, Ohio.Smith was so incensed over a speeding ticket that
he designed, and then promoted the best radar detector of that day. Further, he
proved to be an effect lobbyist for the devices given government’s attempts to
limit their use, arguing that American citizens have a right to know when they
are being watched electronically, even as they drive. It is not known whether
the radar detector was behind the writing of the lyrics for the 1973 song
“Radar Love.” The song’s reference to ”waves in the air” as a means of linking
lovers is certainly suggestive. Initially released by the Dutch band Golden
Earing, “Radar Love” is the quintessential road song. It was later followed by
versions from U2, R.E.M., and Carlos Santana.
the early police use of radar, see “Check Speeds by Radar,” The American City, (1950), 121;
”Birmingham Checks Speeds by Radar; Electro-Matic Speed Meter,” The American City,(1951), 147; “Big Brother is Driving,” Time, (November 23, 1953), 28; “Radar
Detectors Umpire Traffic Intersections,” The
American City, 69(1954), 149; Radar Really Catches Speeders,” U.S. News & World Report, (August 6,
1954), 36;”Can They Really Check Your Speed by Radar,” Changing Times ((January, 1955)34; “Highway Radar is Watching You,”
Nation’s Business, 43 (September,
1955), 38-40;“New York City Uses Radar
Speed Meter Control,” The American City,
“Radar Speed-Trap Detector,” Popular
Electronics, 15 (1961), 49-52.
the radar detector industry during the 1970s and consumer demand, seePatrick Bedard, “If all Else Fails,” Car and Driver, (September, 1977), 62;
Rich Taylor, “Getting on Top of Old Smokey,” ibid ,41-51;Rich Taylor “Your Right to Bear Radar Detectors,” ibid, 59-60.