Tinted Windows: A pursuit of privacy and our collective need to be safe


It’s 6:30 p.m. on a cold harmattan-suffocated evening on Oregun Road in Lagos, and Sola was driving his friend’s car as they went to an evening hangout. Fred, the owner of the car, is in the front seat when Sola tries to turn around just before exiting onto Opebi Link Road when a commercial motorcyclist (Okada) spins over to the driver’s side.

In the accident that followed, the Okada rider was blown up and his bike skidded in the middle of the road. As usual in Lagos, a large crowd had gathered to take pictures and be a nuisance in general and when they saw that the occupants of the car were all young men it was assumed that they were drunk and that this was it was the cause of the accident.

A police patrol team on routine patrol arrived at the scene to forestall the breakdown of law and order and removed the crowd immediately after pictures were taken of the scene of the accident. The veteran inspector who ran the team noticed that the car’s windows were dark and heavily tinted – with small holes that allowed a restricted view of the side mirrors. This limited the driver’s angle of vision when turning and thus the accident.

A very high percentage of turn / junction accidents in Nigeria are caused by poor driver visibility in heavily tinted vehicles. The use of 5% shade (the darkest shade form) is most common in quasi-security vehicles like the Toyota Hilux in convoys and in vehicles owned by state security officials.

Tinted windows are a fad among Nigerians and a status symbol, especially for politicians and the rich. Tinted windows are basically of two types: the factory tinted ones and the functional tones installed by the owner of the vehicle. In the case of windows that are tinted at the factory, the color is tinted in the window itself and can therefore not be removed. A layer of film is used over the glass for convenient tinting, which can be removed.

Some of the reasons for window tinting in a vehicle are a degree of privacy for the occupants, protection from UV rays / sunlight, and an eye-pleasing appearance. Color tones were originally only included in Sport Utility Vehicles (SUVs), as they do not have a covered luggage compartment (boat) and the color therefore offered a kind of cover for the items in the boat from prying eyes.

Factory-tinted windows themselves have a pigment in the glass. For the appropriate color tones, a nylon film must be attached over the window, which creates a tint to varying degrees. Grades range from 50% which is a factory tint, 35% which is a light and acceptable tint, 25% which is dark and acceptable in most cases, and 5% which is very dark and in most cases unacceptable is instances.

Factory colors can be found on the rear windows of most new and fairly used SUVs and trucks. The hues are measured by the percentage of visible light transmission (VLT%) in relation to the amount of light (UV rays they let into the vehicle), and the 5% is the extreme of the spectrum with very little light passing through becomes very dark in the vehicle especially at night, while the 50% is the beginning of the spectrum with a lot of light in the vehicle, so it is bright).

In Nigeria, the police determine and regulate the use of paint in vehicles and what is acceptable across the Federation. The laws of the Federal Republic of Nigeria place the responsibility and burden of regulating the use of paint in vehicles on the Nigerian Police, both as the regulator and as the enforcer of rules and procedures.

Initially, the police only licensed vehicles with factory tinted windows, but more recently approval has been given for non-factory tinted windows. According to the regulations, exemptions are issued to owners with a medical requirement for this type of shade on their vehicles, and owners are required to provide evidence of approval from state hospitals.

Some of the reasons why window darkness is regulated are safety issues for vehicle occupants and other road users (i.e. you cannot see clearly enough, especially at night, and thus become a danger to yourself and other road users). Second, law enforcement officers need to be able to see the occupants of a vehicle at all times (this can be for routine search purposes or just so that the occupants can be seen if damage is done to someone in the vehicle).

In the absence of a clear framework from the Nigerian police on the acceptable hues, we in Nigeria have individuals at stake who choose different hues based on their own desires, needs and location. Existing laws have been largely ignored and this has resulted in some of the harshest paint hues in vehicles in Nigeria benefiting unscrupulous groups and individuals in the vehicle paint market. Road users are known to have incentives from law enforcement officers, especially on interstate freeways.

There is an urgent need to balance the need for privacy / comfort for vehicle owners and the general security of society. The Nigerian police have sounded the alarm several times because kidnappers and armed robbers are using dark-tinted vehicles. This resulted in the issuing of the paint permit, which required a physical inspection of the vehicle and capturing the owner’s biometrics.

The non-enforcement of the original directive and its watering down, with all kinds of exceptions, completely undermined the directive’s initial gains. The Tint Permit Portal hosted on the Nigerian Police website clearly states to vehicle owners that the permit is only given to factory tinted vehicles and that if we do eliminate the dangerous paint tones, that provision must be enforced that we currently have on our streets.

While it is understandable that some individuals might want to protect their privacy, public safety comes first.

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