Tinted windows, oversized tires can be illegal

Q: Two questions: Is it illegal to have darkened forward windows in a car? Is it illegal to have oversized tires on a pickup that extend wider than the truck body? If they aren’t legal, why isn’t there more enforcement? Both are dangerous for pedestrians; dark windows make coordinating between drivers difficult.

A: Two answers: sometimes and yes. But you actually asked three questions and your third one is the trickiest. So of course, I’ll start with the easy ones. Window tint and oversized tires have something in common — drivers often make those modifications, at least partly, for style. (If you own a pickup with enormous tires, and it’s never been off pavement, I’m talking about you.)

Coolness is at best a secondary function of a vehicle. I’d rank it even lower. If I was creating a sort of Maslov’s hierarchy of needs for vehicles, the order would start with safety and reliability, followed by efficiency, comfort, performance and style, with the order dependent on the specific car. (Call me shallow, but I’d be willing to give up some comfort for great performance and truly good style.)

My point though, is that we shouldn’t be sacrificing safety to look cool. Side note: coolness is subjective, and the people who think they’re cool are often the most wrong. Case in point — in high school I wore sunglasses at night. Yep, just like the song. About 99 percent of the population thought it was dumb, but a segment of the 15 — to 17-year-old crowd was all in.

Excessive window tint is a lot like me and my friends in high school. We thought we looked cool, but we couldn’t see where we were going. The law limits window tint to 24 percent, which means that 76 percent of light hitting the window is blocked. There are a few exceptions, but unless you drive a limo or a hearse for work the exceptions probably aren’t for you.

If you’re considering safety in your tinting decision, you wouldn’t want to go that dark anyway; researchers have found that visual acuity and depth perception are negatively affected starting at around 65 percent.

I don’t have an embarrassing story from my past as a segue to oversized tires, so I’ll just be clear. If tires stick out past the fenders, it’s a violation of the law. Fenders and mud flaps must be as wide as the tires and extend to at least the center of the axle. Also, big truck tires are expensive, so why would someone spend all that money to make their vehicle no longer street legal?

You’re right that both of these violations are dangerous, especially for pedestrians. Reducing visibility with window tint or tossing rocks from unguarded tires can turn out badly for other drivers, but it’s a lot worse if you’re on foot or on a bike.

Now for the tricky part. I’m not really the right person to answer why there isn’t more enforcement of these violations. My bias leans heavily toward traffic safety so, as you can imagine, I’m in favor of data-supported enforcement that addresses safety issues. There are other folks who, motivated by other reasons, would like to see less traffic enforcement, especially of equipment violations like these.

I’d suggest having a conversation with your local law enforcement and the people elected to represent you. When we share with and understand each other, we have the best chance of creating positive solutions for our communities.

Doug Dahl writes a weekly traffic column for this newspaper.