London News & Search
Travel to most southern U.S. states and you’ll notice a lot of darkly tinted car windows. Not just the rear windows, the front ones, too. It’s practically a necessity in areas that experience intense sunlight for much of the year. Tinting does everything from help overtaxed air conditioning systems to reduce fading of upholstery to blocking harmful UV rays that ruin plastic.
Come north, though, and severely tinted front windows usually signal someone is up to something. Any window tinting by the manufacturer is legal. Many other forms are not. Manufacturers are aware of, and strictly adhere to, federal standards, settling on something usually referred to as “factory tint.”
It’s the stuff done afterwards that can leave you holding a ticket. As Ursula Bennett, of Mississauga, found out, buying a used car directly from a dealer might not even protect you. Dealers aren’t manufacturers. Bennett, along with her husband, owns two cars with tinted windows: a 2009 Chrysler 300 and a 2006 Dodge Charger.
A few weeks ago, a municipal police officer wrote Bennett a ticket for her darkened windows. Bennett was surprised: she’d purchased the car used from the Chrysler dealer she’d always dealt with. She assumed the tinting was legal.
“I know it can look very dark in some conditions, and at night. But I’d seen similar tint on the same car — cop cars.” I asked her if the tint was factory. It wasn’t. A search online reveals countless 300s for sale with some degree of tinting, all done aftermarket.
The law, with few exceptions, isn’t concerned with how you tint your rear windshield or back windows. Only Nova Scotia prohibits you tinting anything but the top of the windshield, and New Brunswick not even that; Manitoba requires a 35 per cent visible light transference (must let 35 per cent of light in) on the rear glass and back doors. For reference, “limo tint” is a 5 per cent tint. Other than that, Canadian provinces are happy to let you bunker it up as long as you have side view mirrors.
Front windows are where the problems start. No province lets you tint the windshield beyond the factory band at the top; and while most jurisdictions won’t let you tint the front side windows either, Quebec, Ontario, Manitoba and Newfoundland offer up an array of choices. In Quebec, you can tint front side windows up to a 70 per cent visible light transference. Manitoba will stop you at 50. A device called a photometer measures this, making both jurisdictions far more transparent, so to speak, than Ontario and Newfoundland.
The problem in Ontario and Newfoundland is there is currently no measurable number — it’s entirely left to an “officer’s discretion.” Laws that leave themselves open to interpretation also leave themselves open to abuse. It’s crazy that these two places have rules for almost everything governing cars on the road, yet none for something that affects visibility.
And what happens if a Quebec driver with windows acceptable in his or her home province gets stopped in Ontario? Is he or she breaking the phantom law? Again, it’s the officer’s discretion. There are instances of tickets issued to non-residents, but more often a car legal in Ontario might be ticketed as illegal in Quebec (as Quebec police have a reputation of going after Ontario plates). Police, in general, don’t seem bothered enough to crackdown on cars with U.S. plates, though again it’s discretionary.
“There is a caveat in the Highway Traffic Act that allows an officer to use his or her discretion,” says Constable Clinton Stibbe of Toronto Police Service. Section 73 (subsections 2 and 3) of the Act states that the front windows can’t be obscured by a colour coating or spray that interferes with the driver’s view of the roadway or “substantially obscures” someone’s ability to see into the car. It’s up to the officer to decide.
Stibbe makes an important point about the need for the eye contact, something hard to do with tinted windows. As a pedestrian, before you step off a curb when you arrive at a four-way stop, the interaction with a driver requires a degree of not just acknowledgment, but trust. I have to know what you intend to do, and I have to know that you’ve seen me. Think of how often you respond differently because you see someone on the phone or texting. You need this information, and dark tinting obscures it.
Sightlines on many modern cars are also terrible; blacking out rear windows makes backing up at night a crapshoot. Yes, backup cameras help, but Canadian weather renders many of them useless when you need them most. Darkened side windows simply make it harder to see everything from parked cars to pets on the roadway at night. Lane changes in the dark become risky. Parking can be a gamble.
Problems like Ursula Bennett’s kick in when conditions change. Black interiors appear darker through tinted glass than lighter ones, the time of day greatly alters perception and so do weather conditions. What might pass an officer’s discretion one day might not the next. Without photometers to gauge, your car is sporting an accessory you can’t alter according to conditions.
Some American states require the aftermarket tint supplier to embed a sticker identifying their work, though no Canadian provinces do.
With organizations like the International Window Film Association providing updated standards and laws for all provinces and states, there is little doubt that reputable window tinting firms know exactly what is legal. On websites, in quotes and over the phone, they adhere to the law. Could they provide tinting considered illegal if a customer pushed? Probably. But without having to identify their work, the liability rests with the customer. Consumers are also free to avail themselves of one of the many do-it-yourself kits, those bubble-streaked messes that couldn’t possibly have been the goal.
Stibbe says darkened windows in the rear of a vehicle aren’t much of a police concern here, though in parts of the U.S. there are heated debates about profiling of cars for just this reason.
“For front windows, it’s a safety issue; we have to be able to clearly see the driver.” I did a ride along with an OPP officer one time; I can tell you walking up to a car on the side of the highway with blacked out rear windows is scary to this regular, unarmed person.
Considering Ursula Bennett’s situation, I asked Stibbe why the law here isn’t clearer, or enforced more consistently: “Hey, those licence plate covers sold at ministry offices? Those are illegal,” he laughed.
No wonder so many of us are in the dark.
London News & Search