x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Motorists blind to dangers of tinting

Tens of thousands of motorists are driving cars with windows tinted dangerously beyond the legal limit, an investigation by The National has found.

The National reporter Charlie Hamilton's Jeep Cherokee has its windows tinted at a garage.
The National reporter Charlie Hamilton's Jeep Cherokee has its windows tinted at a garage.

ABU DHABI // Tens of thousands of motorists are driving cars with windows tinted dangerously beyond the legal limit, an investigation by The National has found. Shops throughout the capital offer to fit tinted sheets that reduce driver visibility by as much as 70 per cent. The legal maximum opacity is 30 per cent. Car windows are darkened with adhesive plastic film, which keeps the vehicle cooler and makes the occupants less visible to passers-by.

According to documents published by Abu Dhabi police in March last year, drivers caught with windows darker than 30 per cent can be fined a maximum of Dh500 and have their vehicles impounded for up to 30 days. But drivers and people in the industry say this has risen and now stands at Dh10,000. Abu Dhabi Police were unable to resolve this confusion, despite repeated calls from The National. The police were also unable to provide statistics on the number of people who had been fined or how many cars had been impounded.

Traders also reported that prominent people and diplomats could be exempted from the 30 per cent rule, although this could not be confirmed by the police. Despite the penalties, drivers are still prepared to take the risk and drive around the capital with heavily blacked-out windows. Our investigation found traders routinely offering to install plastic sheeting at 50 or 70 per cent opacity. To test the effect on visibility, we fitted a car with, in turn, 30, 50 and 70 per cent sheets.

While daylight driving was not seriously affected by any of the films, visibility after dark was severely curtailed and with the 50 per cent screen, any object not brightly lit was difficult to distinguish at more than around 30 metres. Viewing anything more than 15 metres away through the 70 per cent film was difficult. The plastic transformed everything other than headlights and street lights into an impenetrable blackness.

Salespeople said many customers requested that their windows be darkened beyond the legal limit, despite the clear threat to road safety. We visited several shops along the capital's busy Salam Street to investigate the prevalence of window tinting beyond the legal restriction. All offered to fit tints that were illegal, with all but one shop informing the reporter that drivers risked being fined if they were caught with the darkened windows.

"It is illegal to drive with anything darker than 30 per cent but a lot of people come here and ask for 50 per cent or 70 per cent, so we have these tints too," said a salesman at one firm. "It is mostly the local Emirati people who want their windows to be very dark. It is a very big fine but many people just ignore it. "We get all kinds of people asking for darker windows. About 50 per cent of the cars that come through here want very dark windows."

Hamid Mahmood, a salesman who works at another garage, was the only trader not to tell our reporter that he risked a fine by having 50 per cent tint film fitted. "We can fit 30 per cent or 50 per cent, but we do not do 70 per cent," he said. "Seventy per cent is too dark. It is dangerous. You cannot see well, especially at night." A salesman at a third shop said people who used darker windows were taking a risk, but it was not his responsibility to stop them.

"It is dangerous enough to drive on the roads here. You need to be able to see around you, to see other cars and people walking. "Of all the cars that come here only about one in every 30 want to have 70 per cent. "It is mostly locals. They want to have privacy. They ask for 70 on the windows on the side of the car and either 50 or 30 on the front and back. "If people ask for very dark windows on the front or back, I try to make them take the lighter ones."

Cathy Keeler, the deputy chief executive of Brake, a British road safety lobby group, said: "It is vital that people follow the law in terms of window tinting. "The effect of some of these dark windows is to make it harder to see hazards in the road, especially at night. "It is like trying to drive while wearing sunglasses at night and you wouldn't do that. "It would seem to me that prosecuting drivers but not the companies which fit the windows is a clear loophole in the law."

Norm Labbe, the managing director of the Emirates Institute for Health and Safety, said drivers often read each other's intentions through the eyes and this was lost if windows were darkened. "As a driver, definitely [tinting] hinders your view. "Where I find it is most dangerous, is at night. "If you are a defensive driver you are always looking at your mirrors and looking at other cars moving around you because if they are going to change lanes, usually their eyes will declare their intentions before they put their signals on. If their windows are tinted, how do you know?"

Idriss Makdoud, an expert in vehicle window tinting and the chief executive of Sunprotech UAE, said that motorists who wanted to darken their windows should visit reputable dealers, otherwise they risked being sold film they believe to be 30 per cent tint but that could in fact be illegal. He estimated that tens of thousands of motorists had illegal tints on their cars. "There are some bad operators out there.

"I have had customers coming in having been told that the film on their car is legal and in fact it is much too dark. "They risk getting a big fine and there is a safety consideration too. If they are driving around with something like that, their visibility is going to be affected." He said that modern ceramic films with almost no tinting could offer better heat reduction than much of the darkest plastic available at some of the capital's older workshops.

@Email:chamilton@thenational.ae * Additional reporting by Matthew Chung and Hadeel al Sayegh