Police are set to crack down on drivers whose windows are so strongly tinted it is dangerous.
UAE drivers in the dark over too much tint
ABU DHABI // Status and privacy have kept the demand for tinted windows high, despite police warnings that windows tinted more than 30 per cent will not be tolerated.
To see how many people have windows tinted in excess of the legal 30 per cent, The National joined a road safety expert to count cars on the Corniche.
On a recent Thursday morning, more than one in 10 cars had windows tinted darker than 30 per cent. Two 15-minute counts were conducted on one side of the road between 9am and 10am.
Although not a representative sample, it gave an indication of how many people flout the law on window tinting.
"Even if you get statistics of how many vehicles are heavily tinted, you need something solid that tells you how it affects driver behaviour," said Dr Abdulilah Zineddin, a highway safety expert based in Abu Dhabi.
"The Government should investigate the number of crashes that occur during night time with tinted windows."
Of 1,134 vehicles surveyed by The National, 133 - about 12 per cent - had windows that were too dark. Almost a quarter of vehicles had medium levels of tinting. Most of those without tint were taxis and commercial vehicles.
"People do not believe that tinting affects safety in any way, but obviously you don't have as much visibility," Dr Zineddin said.
"Personally I think tinting, even the 30 per cent, affects the driver's visibility at night."
There are alternatives, he said.
"Drivers need to outweigh the risks of obstructing their visibility by tinting their windows.
"They can simply wear sunglasses to deal with the sun, they can turn their car on a few minutes earlier to get the heat out or they can put more efforts in parking in shaded areas."
But many motorists believe the blacker the better.
Juma'a Al Rumaithi put a 70 per cent tint on the back of his turquoise SLK 30 Mercedes to "look cool" before police caught him.
He said dark windows command more respect from aggressive drivers.
"Everyone who sees this car says, 'maybe it's high-class people driving' so they will be very careful and they will not get too near you on the road," said Mr Al Rumaithi, 41.
Mohammed Al Mazrouei, 25, was given a stern warning by Abu Dhabi police recently. All his windows, including the windscreen, were tinted to look like mirrors. He insisted it was not difficult to see at night. "My eyes are sharp, al humdulilah," he said.
For young men such as Mr Al Mazrouei, tinted windows offer more than protection from the heat or a way to avoid wearing a seat belt. They offer freedom and privacy not found in the home.
"I'm local. I have family. Let's say I have a girlfriend, I don't want them to see her with me," he said.
Tinted windows are also associated with wealth and wasta, and have become a must-have car accessory in the Arabian Gulf.
Mr Al Mazrouei's friend had a luxury sports car that was double tinted at the maximum tint commercially available. It means he put 100 per cent tints on, twice. The friend had driving fines in excess of Dh100,000.
"People feel curious when they see it. They're curious, who's inside?"
Dubai police reported that last year there were 2,206 offences for exceeding the permitted levels of tinted windows. There have been 390 during the first quarter of 2013, down from 448 in the same period last year.
Windows tinted above the limit will not be tolerated this summer, said police.
"It's never OK," said Brig Gen Ghaith Al Zaabi, director general of traffic coordination at the Ministry of Interior. "The rule applies to everyone. All races, all genders, all nationalities. The percentage allowed is 30. That's it.
"I don't believe that even 30 per cent is good or safe. There are, of course, security issues at play and safety issues. Tinted windows block or reduce visibility, especially at night."
The demand for tint has grown each year, said business owners. Accessory garages are busiest in May and June as drivers prepare their cars for the heat.
One shop owner estimates that a third of his customers tint more than 70 per cent. At this level it is extremely difficult to see outside the vehicle at night.
The penalty for exceeding the permitted level of tint is a Dh500 fine and 30 days car impoundment, according to the Ministry of Interior.
Shop owner Masood Mozeh refuses to sell tints darker than 50 per cent - and this has cost him customers. "I know it's dangerous for them and I will not sell it. If they don't like their lives, then they will go somewhere else," he said.