Can Handle

About the closest I’ve ever got to tinted windows was the ‘sun strip’ across the windscreen of my dad’s old Volvo.

Thankfully, it didn’t have my parent’s names etched into it, but it certainly wasn’t a ‘cool’ feature. Instead, it was practical and very sensible, just like most other Volvo accessories.

The sun strip shielded a driver’s eyes from overhead glare almost as effectively as a sun visor, and without all the fuss of folding one out and repositioning it. And if you parked in a sunny spot, it helped keep the car a little cooler than a fully transparent window could.

If sun strips were ever fashionable, however, it was back in the ’80s when our Volvo was produced. To more modern tastes, tinting just a portion of your windscreen seems a bit tame – particularly considering most of today’s cars roll off the production line with light-resistant glass in every window.

There’s no doubt about it: tinting, when it’s done subtly, looks a lot better than plain glass. Why else, for instance, do marketing departments use darkened windows in almost every car ad you see on TV or on billboards by the side of the road? To my mind, the effect is like putting on a pair of sunglasses – and they make pretty much anyone look the business.

Besides, a moderate tint does more than just make the car look better. It also takes some of the heat and glare out of bright sunlight that would otherwise end up dazzling and discomforting whoever is at the wheel.

But given these advantages, some UK motorists are tempted to go a little too far with tinting.

The law states that a car’s front windows may be no more than 30 percent tinted, and the front windscreen 25 percent. Going beyond this level has a negative effect on driver visibility, and thus heightens the risk of an injury or lost a cheap car insurance rate through an accident. The backs, however, are fair game, because they aren’t considered vital for visibility.

To put these figures into context: today’s average car comes with an 18 to 22 percent tint on all glass as standard, which leaves you pretty much maxed-out where the front windows are concerned.

Even so, the police regularly make arrests for front windows with as much as a 75 percent tint; sometimes even greater. At this level, it’s more like wearing a blindfold than a pair of sunglasses. Safe driving is patently impossible.

It’s tempting to imagine that the kind of criminal behind most of these cases was some pimply teen in a Vauxhall Nova, but this is actually far from the truth. Instead, boy racers (many of whom can don’t have the cash to splash out on tinted glass after making their young driver car insurance payments) account for relatively few sales either in the legal or illegal tinting markets.

Today’s buoyant trade in glass and tinting accessories can actually be blamed on a quite different section of the driving public: the school-run mums. Presumably, they think darkened windows will stop the kids getting quite so fidgety in the back, and stop the other mums from noticing the MacDonald’s cartons and other child-related messiness strewn about the interior.

Sadly, much illegal tinting is applied without the mums realizing it’s illegal – and it’s often done at the suggestion of some unscrupulous garage worker. Penalties for offending cars run from fines to prohibitions (which ban you from driving until the tints are removed) and can potentially ruin your cheap car insurance premiums.

Given the legislative minefield, it’s perhaps better to avoid tinted windows altogether and stick to a more traditional way of getting that ‘sunglasses’ feeling in your front seats.

That’s right – wear sunglasses.