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Ask Joanne

Hey, aren't those tinted windows illegal? Add to ...

I see more and more cars on the roads in Ontario with windows so dark you can’t see the occupants. Two questions: 1. What does the law allow with respect to opaque car windows? 2. What are the OPP and municipal police doing to deal with this problem? Both as a driver and pedestrian, I find it difficult to anticipate what a motorist is going to do when you can’t see the driver. It’s scary. Time for action. – Doug in Oakville, Ont.

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There are some obvious reasons for tinting automobile windows, such as to block out UV rays, repel summer heat, reduce glare, or conceal items in the back of a vehicle that might otherwise tempt thieves.

Also, who among us hasn’t yearned for a little privacy when sitting in rush-hour traffic?

The federal government sets the minimum performance requirements for window shading on new vehicles, under the Motor Vehicle Safety Act. Because they’re not required to be equipped with a passenger-side mirror, all windows on passenger cars are considered necessary for the driver’s visibility and must allow at least 70 per cent light transmittance. Most SUVs and minivans, however, fall under the class of Multi-purpose Passenger Vehicles (MPVs). Because MPVs and trucks require a mirror on both sides and don’t require a window behind the driver’s seat, extra tinting on rear windows is permitted for these vehicles.

Federal regulations specify the safety performance aspects of vehicles upon manufacture, but vehicle use, maintenance and aftermarket alterations are regulated by provincial and territorial governments. These vary across the country, but when it comes to aftermarket tinting of the front driver- and passenger-side windows, it’s either illegal (for example, British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Nova Scotia) or regulated through a maximum allowable tint.

“The driver’s side window is the real concern, so that the officer can have a view inside the window. That’s a safety factor. When we’re pulling people over and approaching the vehicles we want to be able to see who we’re dealing with,” says Sergeant Dave Woodford of the Ontario Provincial Police. This was echoed by the Ontario regional police representatives I contacted.

According to Ministry of Transportation spokesman Bob Nichols, Ontario’s Highway Traffic Act (HTA) does not define a specific degree of permitted window tinting for passenger vehicles. Window tinting is addressed in sections 73 and 74 of the HTA, “whereby the surface of the windshield or any side window to the left or right of the driver cannot be coated with any colour spray or other colour coating in such a manner as to obstruct the driver’s view of the roadway, or obscure the view from outside to the interior of the motor vehicle.”

Law enforcement officers can, and do, ticket for this offence. A motorist who violates the HTA window-tinting provisions can be fined up to $500. The minimum set fine is $110 ($85, plus a $20 victim fine surcharge and $5 court fee).

Because Ontario regulations don’t specify a measure of light that must pass through the window, it’s up to the officer’s visual judgment to determine if safety is being comprised.

“I don’t know how you would actually measure how much of a percentage of tint you have on your windows; I couldn’t do it myself. What it comes down to is an officer’s discretion, so if I can’t see in that vehicle, then I could check that vehicle out and charge that person with obstructed view,” Woodford said.

Send your automotive maintenance and repair questions to globedrive@globeandmail.com

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