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driving concerns

What are the rules around tinted windows? I see cars on the road where you can’t even tell if anybody’s driving. Surely, that’s not legal. – Peter, Victoria

In British Columbia, tinted windows aren’t allowed on driver and passenger side windows up front, but the rear windows are a different story.

“Any aftermarket tint film – no matter what shade – is not legal in B.C. when it is on the front driver and passenger side windows,” said RCMP Constable Mike Moore, a spokesman for B.C. Highway Patrol. “If applying aftermarket tint to any of the rear windows behind the shoulder of the driver, then there is no limit on how dark the tint can be. [Although] if the rear window is tinted, then the vehicle must be equipped with both side mirrors.”

Ottawa makes the safety rules for new cars. The federal Motor Vehicle Safety Act regulates the level of factory tint on the windshield and other windows. Under those rules, the glass must allow a minimum of 70 per cent of light to pass through.

But the provinces regulate what you do with your car once you get it – and that includes adding aftermarket tinted window film.

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While the rules vary by province, they generally ban or limit aftermarket tinting on front windows, but allow it on rear windows.

Several provinces – including B.C., Alberta, Saskatchewan and Nova Scotia – ban any aftermarket tint on front side windows.

Other provinces allow some tinting. For example, in Quebec and New Brunswick, front side windows have to let through at least 70 per cent of light. In Manitoba, it is 50 per cent.

“The original windows of the vehicle are already tinted,” Geneviève Côté, a spokeswoman for the Société de l’assurance automobile du Québec (SAAQ), Quebec’s public auto insurance plan, said in an e-mail. “You must therefore take this into account when applying additional film.”

Ontario’s law doesn’t specify a percentage of tint allowed on front side windows. It’s up to police to decide whether your windows are too dark.

What about your windshield? In most provinces, you can’t add aftermarket tint to a windshield. A few provinces allow tinted film along the top of it. For instance, B.C. allows tinting on the top 7.5 centimetres of the windshield.

Safety hazard?

So why do the provinces take a dark view of aftermarket tints on front windows? Drivers may not be able to see out clearly – and police, other drivers and pedestrians may not be able to see in.

“The tint can impair the vision of the driver, especially in low-light situations,” the RCMP’s Moore said. Further, some people tint their windows so police can’t see them using their cellphones behind the wheel, or driving without a seatbelt. “This tint hampers our ability to enforce these laws.”

Window film can also be dangerous in a crash, Moore said.

“For safety, that side window glass is designed to shatter into many little pieces in the event of a side-impact [crash],” Moore said. If the tint film holds the broken glass together in larger pieces, “that could pose an increased risk of injury to the driver,” he said.

If you do get caught with dark windows, the penalties vary by province.

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In B.C., an officer can decide to either issue you a $109 fine or give you a written order to have the tint removed, Moore said.

“Window tint is usually pretty obvious to officers,” Moore said. “Someone driving in a rainstorm with one of the front windows down when we drive by them is a pretty big clue” that the windows are too dark to see out of.

If you get caught with a tint, it doesn’t matter if the previous car’s owner put it there – or if the tinting shop didn’t tell you it was illegal, Moore said.

“It is the ultimate responsibility of the driver to ensure that the vehicle that they are intending to drive on B.C. highways complies with the B.C. Motor Vehicle Act regulations,” Moore said.

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