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Jamming devices may be of no use

Special to The Times

Recent lab tests conducted on two popular automotive radar- and laser-jamming devices concluded that the gadgets are ineffective in blocking police speed traps.

Consumers are being duped into believing that they are “invisible to police radar and laser” if they have the jamming devices in their cars, said Susan Ferguson, vice president for research for the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety in Arlington, Va., a nonprofit research group funded by automobile insurers.

“We are concerned these jammers will encourage people to speed ... because they believe they can escape detection and beat the rap,” Ferguson said.

These jammers should not be confused with the more widely sold radar and laser detectors that are legal in most states and warn drivers by sensing the presence of police speed guns but do not send signals that try to block the equipment.

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Federal law bans the use of devices that block or interfere with police radar guns, and California and Utah also prohibit the use of laser jammers.

Nevertheless, an estimated 420,000 of these jamming gadgets have been sold nationwide in the last five years, said Carl Fors, president of Speed Measurement Laboratories Inc., a Houston firm that trains police officers and tests automotive equipment, including jammers.

The jamming devices are heavily marketed via the Internet by firms such as Rocky Mountain Radar in El Paso. The company sells jammers for about $200 and says they prevent police radar and laser guns from determining a vehicle’s speed.

But the Insurance Institute recently tested two Rocky Mountain Radar products -- the Phazer II Laser and Radar Jammer -- and concluded that neither device was able to jam police radar or laser guns.

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“Motorists thinking about buying one should consider just putting a block of wood on the dashboard.... It would save a significant amount of money and achieve a virtually identical result,” said P. David Fisher, engineering professor emeritus at Michigan State University, who conducted the institute’s tests.

Rocky Mountain Radar spokesman Douglas Jones disputed the findings, saying the tests were conducted improperly and didn’t reflect real-life speed-enforcement tactics used by police. “The product works. I’ve seen it work in many road tests, and I have one in my car,” Jones said.

The California Highway Patrol also has tested various radar jamming devices and has found they don’t do what they claim to, said George MacDougall, coordinator of the CHP radar program. These devices can give drivers who are speeding a false sense of security, he added.

The California jamming law was passed in 1999, but since then the CHP has issued only 38 citations for vehicles equipped with radar jammers.

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“The California law is so diluted, it’s a misdemeanor. Police are not even going to bother to enforce it,” Fors said.

The Los Angeles Police Department confirms that it has not arrested or issued citations to motorists using radar or laser jammers. One reason, said Sgt. Roger Archambault of the Valley traffic division, is that “I’ve never seen a radar jammer that works, and officers believe most of the radar jammers are a scam.”

But avoiding speeding tickets remains a big lure in the marketplace. Demand for jamming devices aside, some 1 million conventional radar detectors are sold each year.

K40 Electronics, an Elgin, Ill., firm, sells a product called Laser DefuserPlus that it advertises as “the most sophisticated anti-laser technology” available.

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The company says the device works as both a laser detector and a jammer -- it warns the driver that the vehicle has been targeted by a laser gun and then “deactivates any police laser speed measurement capability,” said K40 spokesman Grant Dahlkey.

The Laser DefuserPlus can be built into a license plate frame, and the indicator lights are installed in the vehicle’s dashboard housing. “Police can’t spot it,” Dahlkey said.

“We don’t advocate speeding,” he said. “We tell people to protect themselves.”

Having an early-warning device is like having a friend in the car who “tells you to slow down,” Dahlkey said. If safety advocates such as the Insurance Institute were “truly concerned, they would tell the auto manufacturers to make cars that don’t go over 55 mph,” he said.

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Jeanne Wright responds in this column to automotive questions of general interest. Write to Your Wheels, Business Section, Los Angeles Times, 202 W. 1st St., Los Angeles, CA 90012. E-mail: jeanrite@aol.com.


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