It is 6:30 pm on a cold harmattan smothered evening on Oregun Road in Lagos, and Sola was driving his friend’s car as they headed for an evening hangout. Fred, the owner of the car is sitting in the front seat as Sola attempts to make a U-turn just before the exit into Opebi Link Road when a commercial motorcyclist (Okada) comes speeding on the driver’s side.
In the ensuing crash, the Okada rider was sent flying into the air and his bike slid into the middle of the road. As is normal in Lagos, a large crowd had gathered taking pictures and generally being a nuisance and when they saw the occupants of the car were all young men, the assumption being that they were drunk and that 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 immediately moved the crowd away after pictures of the accident scene had been taken. The experienced Inspector who led the team noticed the windows of the car were dark and heavily tinted- with small holes cut into it to allow a limited view of the side mirrors. This limited the angle of view of the driver as he made the turn and thus the accident.
A very high percentage of accidents at turnings/ intersections in Nigeria are caused by poor visibility on the part of drivers in heavily tinted vehicles. The use of 5% tint (which is the darkest form of tint) is most prevalent in quasi security vehicles such as the Toyota Hilux in convoys and in vehicles owned by personnel of government security agencies.
Tinted windows are a fad amongst Nigerians and a status symbol especially for politicians and the wealthy. Tinted windows are basically two kinds: the factory tinted and the fit for purpose tints installed by the owner of the vehicle. Factory tinted windows have the tint coloured into the windows themselves and so it is not removable; while for the fit for purpose tint involves the use of a layer of film over the glass and it can be removed.
Some of the reasons for a window tint in a vehicle include a level of privacy for the occupants, protection from UV rays / the glare of the sun and to provide a look that is pleasing to the eye. Tints were initially only included in Sport Utility Vehicles (SUVs) because they do not come with a covered-up luggage area (Boot) and so the tint provided some sort of cover for the items in the Boot from prying eyes.
Factory tinted windows have a pigment inside of the glass themselves; while the purpose fit tints require the installation of a nylon film over the window that creates a tint in varying degrees. The degrees range from 50% which is the same as a factory tint, 35% which is a light and acceptable tint, 25% tint which is dark and acceptable in most instances and the 5% tint which is very dark and not acceptable in most instances.
Factory tint can be found on the rear windows of most new and fairly used SUVs and trucks. Tints are measured by the Visible Light Transmission Percentage (VLT%) in terms of the amount of light (UV rays that they allow into the Vehicle) and the 5% is the extreme of the spectrum with very little light coming through and thus it is very dark inside the vehicle especially at night, while the 50% is the very start of the spectrum with plenty light into the vehicle, thus it is bright).
In Nigeria, the Police determines and regulates the use of tints in vehicles and what is acceptable in the entire Federation. The Laws of the Federal Republic Nigeria places the onus and burden for the regulation of the use of tint in vehicles on the Nigeria Police both as a regulator and enforcer of the rules and procedures.
In the beginning, the Police only licensed vehicles with factory tinted windows, but in recent times the permit has been issued for non-factory tinted windows. According to the regulations, exemptions are issued for owners with a medical requirement for these types of tint for their vehicles and owners are required to provide evidence from government-owned hospitals for the permit to be issued.
Some of the reasons why window darkness is regulated include safety issue for vehicle occupant 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). Secondly, law enforcement officers need to be able to see the occupants of a vehicle at any point in time (this might be for purposes of a routine search or just so that occupants are visible in the event of harm being done to anyone inside the vehicle).
In absence of a clear scope from the Nigeria Police on the acceptable levels of tint, what we have in play in Nigeria is individuals opting for varying levels of tints based on their own desires, needs and their location. The existing laws have been widely ignored and this has led to the proliferation of some of the harshest degrees of tints in vehicles in Nigeria and profiteering by unscrupulous groups and individuals in the market for vehicle tints. Road users have been known to be subject of inducements from law enforcement officers especially on the highways between states in the federation.
There is an urgent need to balance out the need for privacy/comfort for vehicle owners and the overall security of the society. The Nigeria Police has on several occasions raised the alarm about the use of dark tinted vehicles by kidnappers and armed robbers. This led to the issuance of the Tint Permit which required a physical inspection of the vehicle and capturing of the biometrics of the owner.
The non-enforcement of the original policy and its dilution with all manner of exemptions have totally eroded the initial gains of the policy. On the Portal for the tint permit hosted on the website of the Nigerian Police, there is a clear notice to vehicle owners informing them that the permit is only issued for factory tinted vehicles and there is a need to enforce this provision if we are going to eliminate the dangerous levels of tints we presently have on our roads.
While it is understandable that some individuals want to guard their privacy, public safety comes first.