To See, or Not To See - Tinted Windows

tinted side windowsOne of my preferred enforcement practices was to use an unmarked car and drive in the right hand lane at or just under the speed limit. This gave me plenty of time to look at and into whatever passed by on my left. Vehicle defects, failing to wear a seatbelt, distracted driving and other things of interest to a traffic cop were often easily discovered.

I recall doing this once on a cold and rainy afternoon. A car passed by me with both the front side windows rolled down completely and both front seat occupants staring resolutely ahead. Why do you think they were willing to get wet as they pretended not to see me?

As you have probably guessed by now, it was illegally tinted front side windows.

Why is Clear Glass Important for Driving?

The information that we need to drive is predominantly visual. Tint prevents other road users from making eye contact with the driver, it impairs the driver's ability to identify and react to a low contrast target, particularly among older drivers and tint remains in place at night and during times of impaired visibility

B.C.'s Window Tinting Rules

There are two methods of tinting automotive glass, tint contained within the glass itself and tinting film applied to the inside surface.

As delivered by the vehicle manufacturer, tint inside the window glass meets Canadian Motor Vehicle Safety Standard 205 and each window is marked with the appropriate AS grade. It was rare to find a window that did not have the approval marking or was incorrectly tinted.

Where most vehicles failed to meet the rules is when the owner installed tinting film:

  • more than 75 mm below the top of the windshield
  • on a side window that was beside the driver
  • on the rear window when the vehicle did not have outside mirrors on both sides

Resistance to Enforcement

In my experience, virtually all Notice & Order #3's were ignored. Ditto the offer to cancel a traffic ticket if the tint was removed and the vehicle presented for inspection. Sometimes it took multiple tickets and Notice & Order #2's to correct the issue.

Tinting Businesses Part of the Problem

I know of one business that actually told their customers that if they were stopped by the police they could come back, have the tint removed, present the vehicle for inspection and then have the tint put back on. Once. Free of charge.

It is an offence under Section 222 MVA for businesses to install tint that does not meet standards. Being prosecuted under this law would be a flea bite compared to being found liable for tint being the cause of a crash. Having business insurance does not protect you from wilfully unlawful acts.

Vehicle Sales Businesses Also Part of the Problem

You could even find vehicles with illegal tint being displayed for sale at businesses. In addition to Section 222 already mentioned, Division 8.01 MVAR also applies to prevent the sale of vehicles that are not roadworthy.

No Medical Exemptions for Tint

Some drivers tried to convince me, even producing a doctor's note, that they had health or vision issues that required the tint. I could understand this for people who suffered from cutaneous porphyria, but only RoadSafetyBC can grant an exemption from these rules and they will not do so.

So, to see or not to see. Why would you limit your ability to drive safely on purpose?

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You mention the shops that would do a free reinstall after they removed and passed inspections. Why is @TranBC not revoking these shops permits to do inspections?

Similarly I've seen a # of commercial vehicles with tinted side windows. How do they pass MVI?

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

The shop that I mentioned is not a Designated Inspection Facility so there is no operating permit to withdraw.

As for the commercial vehicle, it would not be the first time that I saw something leave inspection with problems not corrected. There are forms for enforcement personnel to submit reporting what was found.

You didnt mention the danger it poses for police conducting a traffic stop.They are virtually approaching blind in an already difficult situation.My understanding is, the current laws regarding side window tint, are the result of a fatal shooting of a California Highway Patrol officer in the late 70's under those very circumstancesMaybe the people who think its petty to get a ticket for illegal tint,would think different if they knew where and why it became an issue. Also worthy to mention,look closely at car commercials on TV,and you will notice all windows,often including the windshield, are tinted for the ad.Its actually a sensitive issue with the manufactures,but is common practise for "creative" purposes.You mentioned the section 222 "expose or display for sale".

Food for thought.

I thought about it as I wrote the article but didn't think that many people would consider it to be a valid reason. I'm pleased that you did.

Back in the 80’s, I put window tint on my side windows in my Peterbilt. It really did look cool with the windows blacked out. But I found out rather quickly that it was almost impossible to back into the loading dock, at night, with the windows rolled up. The only thing you could see was a reflection of everything that was on the interior of the truck! you couldnt see in your mirrors, or see anything outside so I took a couple pictures of the truck....and stripped it all off.

That's the whole thing.

My vehicle is a Class 4 Bus that goes through annual inspections, so although all the passenger compartment windows are tinted, the windshield and cabin windows must be clear.

Frankly, I wouldn't ever want to drive a vehicle with blacked out windows. You can't connect visually with other drivers or pedestrians, etc.

It's not as though all of the regulations are relevant and important. Who cares if owners of supercars 'display' their front license plate as a decal on the vehicle wrap?

But I'm tired of seeing drivers with essential dimmed windows, or dimmed lights. They're illegal. Pull them over and prosecute. That's how society is supposed to work, eh?

tinted my taurus sho years ago.. with the front side glass one level lighter than the rest… never go bothered, but i will never have tinted side glass again.. impossible to back a trailer at night, and i found that the optics were poor!

I am a 66 year old male who has been riding motorcycles for 50 years. I currently have a 'gentleman's Harley'. It is actually an Electraglide police bike that I bought off a retired chief of police. Unfortunately riding now has become so dangerous, particularly due to people texting that I am seriously considering having to give up riding.

Thank you for the article about tinted windows. I have noticed an increasing amount of tinted windows. It is absolutely frightening in some situations when I can't make eye contact with other drivers. Consider how it feels to be riding up to an intersection and a vehicle is rolling forward as I approach. Can't tell if the driver is looking at me and is just getting ready to accelerate as soon as I pass, or if he is not looking at me approaching, and is about to pull out in front of me, in which case me and my wife are probably going to be killed. Russian roulette.

My theory for the increase in tinted windows is drivers can't be seen/caught using their phone. Is the law/fine more lenient for having a tinted window than for distracted driving? So driver who likes to text and drive can do so and in worst case scenario will only get a warning to have the tint removed.  I really wish the police would be ticketing more for tinted windows and that the fine would be the same as for distracted driving.

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

I think it's great that you're riding what I can only assume is a Harley with stock mufflers. Unfortunately too many Harley riders remove their mufflers in some attempt to embolden themselves or Puff themselves up. Simply outrageous the number of unmufflered Harleys that ride around at all hours the day and night disturbing people waking people up. I wish the police would stop and Section 219 Box 2 these people.

Why would you limit your ability to drive safely on purposes?  When it comes to tint film, the answer is simple – the effect on safety is generally so small as to be insignificant.  Conversely, tint film provides a range of benefits that include safety and security.

The benefits include protecting the car’s interior from UV radiation, allowing the A/C to work more effectively, protecting valuables from theft, and keeping the glass in one piece in an accident.

Other jurisdictions are far less restrictive than BC and Alberta, which don’t allow any kind of film on the front side windows – even clear film.  (Huper Optik makes expensive nanotechnology-based films that are reported to be very effective at rejecting heat and UV rays, while allowing 70% light transmission – equivalent to ordinary factory tint on virtually all cars – but even these are not lawful on front windows.)

Ontario says that the film on front windows must not significantly obscure the view into the car, or something like that.  It’s subjective, but I’m guessing you’d have to have film with a light transmission of under 20% to attract attention.  I’ve seen unmarked police cars with tint film that was probably in the 25% range – it was a municipal force, and I worked for the municipality.

When I lived in Ontario, I had a car tinted while visiting Florida.  It was done at the Florida legal standard for front windows of 28%.  I could have had 15% on the back windows, but I had them all done at the 28% standard to match.  It worked very well.  It was dark, but not extremely dark and the effect was subtle.  Almost no one commented on it.  The only situation where I noticed an issue was making a left turn onto a rural road in the dark.  I simply had to use more care.  This was never an issue where there was streetlighting.  The tint film also helped a lot in dealing with trucks with overbright (even factory) LED headlights coming up from behind.

In the south, tint film is virtually universal.  Dealers bring new cars to tint shops before they are sold. Police cars seem to have the darkest tint.  You cannot see into them at all.  If it was really a major safety issue, you’d think that they’d avoid the tint . . .

Many US states require at least 35% light transmission for the front side windows.  I’d say that this provides an excellent compromise between being able to see into the car (for reasons of eye/face contact with other road users) and the numerous benefits of tint film.