Wednesday, 24 April 2013

Police IG and tinted vehicle glass

THE Inspector-General of Police, Muhammed Abubakar, needs to exercise utmost restraint in the enforcement of laws on tinted glass in vehicles. Obviously worried by the worsening insecurity across the country, the police authorities are falling back on a number of laws in the statute books to address the challenge. Understandably, terrorism is a potent threat that must be crushed. But they need not inflict unnecessary pain on the citizens by stretching the provisions of the laws too far. The Senate is, therefore, right in considering a bill to stop the Nigeria Police, Federal Road Safety Corps and other security agencies from harassing people who use vehicles with factory-fitted tinted glass.  The ban should be on the use of a tint beyond permissible limits.

In response to the rising insecurity in the country, Abubakar ordered his men to immediately begin to arrest and prosecute motorists whose vehicles are fitted with tinted glass and those driving unregistered vehicles. He reminded politicians, military and other security personnel of the “negative security implications” of such activities, which he said infringed on relevant laws. He reiterated that this move became necessary  “in view of the danger posed by indiscriminate use of tinted glass and unregistered vehicles, corroborated by recent security reports that criminal elements, including terrorists, now hide under the cover of the use of unregistered vehicles, tricycles and motorcycles to execute their nefarious trade.”
These are ordinarily unassailable arguments and no one should be allowed to use an unregistered vehicle. Also, in view of the security implications, it is unthinkable to allow vehicles with heavily tinted windows and windscreens to freely ply our roads.  The insecurity in the country today presents Nigeria as a failing state. Armed robbers are having a field day in many states; kidnapping has reached virtually every part of the union; communal clashes and sectarian strife flare in various places, and rival cults stage bloody daylight clashes.  In some northern states, the government is competing for authority with Boko Haram terrorists and well-armed mass murderers who raid villages and public offices, leaving a bloody trail of thousands of dead people in the last few years. In their operations, these criminals use vehicles, tricycles, motorbikes and don military or police uniform. The police, therefore, deserve all the support they can get to check the alarming state of insecurity.
It is not the first time that the federal authorities have targeted users of vehicles with tinted glass. Indeed, during our long years under the military rule, the authorities had occasionally clamped down on tinted glass, green-coloured and black-coloured cars. The reasons given then, as they are now, were that it would curb insecurity and check those impersonating military personnel.
But times and circumstances have changed. The police ought to know, for instance, that modern cars, even the low-priced “people’s cars”, come with various shades of tint. In the United States, the tint limits range between 24 per cent and 75 per cent VLT – lower number meaning less light transmittance and darker tint. In the United Kingdom, the front windscreen must let at least 75 per cent of light through and the front side windows 70 per cent. However, it is illegal to sell or use a vehicle with heavily tinted windscreen and front windows in the UK. The Indian Supreme Court had ruled that vehicle manufacturers may produce vehicles with tinted glass, which provide for 70 per cent visual light transmission for safety glass on front and rear windscreen and 40 per cent VLT for side glass. In all these countries, there is equally a considerable threat of terrorism. Apart from the health and economic reasons that make old provisions on tinted glass bad laws in today’s world, there is the issue of fundamental rights enshrined in the 1999 Constitution that supersedes any other statute.
Good sense demands discretion in the implementation of anomalous laws. A vehicle glass that is not tinted to the point of being opaque poses no security problem whatsoever. Only glass that is opaque, that prevents other road users or security personnel from seeing the occupants of the vehicle, presents a security challenge. In an op-ed article in several newspapers, police spokesman, Frank Mba, cited two laws: Regulation 66(2) of the National Traffic Regulations (1997) and the Motor Vehicles (Prohibition of Tinted Glasses) Act as the enabling laws backing the IG’s action. While the first provides that “all glasses fitted to a vehicle shall be clear and transparent to enable persons outside the vehicle to see whoever is inside,” the second forbids vehicle glass fittings to be tinted or shaded or coloured even lightly.
Clearly, these are outdated laws; the one decreed in 1997, the other a former Decree 6 of 1991 that was simply adopted as an Act of the National Assembly. Vehicle manufacturers worldwide now tint virtually all cars, while Nigeria has no indigenous vehicle manufacturing base to speak of. Tinting vehicle glass became standard after years of research: It protects occupants against ultraviolet sun rays; it saves the upholstery lifespan of cars by up to 60 per cent and is said by safety experts to reduce the risk of injury in case of a crash involving breakage of glass, as tinted glass adheres together rather than crumbles easily.
The IG should rightly clamp down on opaque glass and insist that all vehicle glass show the occupants and the interior visible from the outside. But indiscriminate targeting of tinted glass that is still transparent is unreasonable. The order should be clarified so that police will target only opaque glass. The option of obtaining the IG permit is no solution; it only adds another layer of paperwork and promotes corruption as evidenced by the activities of some corrupt policemen, who extort money from hapless motorists in the name of implementing the IG’s order.
While the IG should rightly be concerned about insecurity and the tricks of criminals and terrorists, he should be circumspect and avoid punishing the innocent. The National Assembly on its part should make haste and amend the laws to fit into current realities.