Recently, a friend of mine was discussing window tint on a Facebook post he made. I warned of the downside of window tint, without really explaining what it is. Others went on to discuss the percentage of light that passes through the tint, and discussed the vision problems associated with it. I decided in that moment to post a few photos and a story about window tint's dangerous side.
You see, there's been a trend in my automotive career that I am not particularly fond of. That trend is upsetting and very dangerous. The trend is, I've been forced to drive with exceptionally dark, tinted windows, in an unlit area, at hours of the day where visibility becomes an issue. And - on two occasions - this has ended badly. I'll tell you the stories to go with the argument.
It was back in 2006, during my karting career's third full season. I was in third place, in a race that was scheduled to start a half hour earlier. The race had been delayed to allow for an ambulance to take my friend to the hospital; a bad omen, for sure. The sun was setting when we started the race. As the sun was setting, I remember asking myself "just how long is this race? The grip conditions will change with the sun going down. The track will get cold. How will this affect my race?" I realized that the tires would get cold if I didn't drive a little harder. I pushed pretty hard to keep the tire temperatures up, and it worked. My third position had stabilized. The sun kept sinking, further and further down upon the airport to the south of the track, until there was no sun to see. At this point, I realized the problem with having a shaded visor. My vision was worse than anyone else's, with the exceptionally dark shaded visor I had chosen to use to keep the glaring sun out of my eyes earlier in the race. The setting sun was blinding, before, but now the very thing I had done to protect my vision earlier in the race was coming back to haunt me. I tried lifting my visor, as kart drivers are allowed to lift their visor one click (anything higher than that is deemed unsafe, because the visor is dedicated to keeping debris, shrapnel and so on out of your eyes and to preventing the injury or death of participants (unlike Ayrton Senna's tragic death, helmet visors deflecting shrapnel can save lives).
So, I tried to see from the little sliver of dim light created by my visor's one-click-from-closed position. It had no effect. I was driving blind. I kept going based on the feel. I knew how many seconds long the straightaways and corners were, I knew where the bumps were, and some areas of the track were lit. I combined all of the elements of that as well as I could to keep going. I caught a rival driver. I heard the rival driver. I knew he was somewhere. But, I did not know where. Immediately after, I felt a shunt; I had hit the kart I was attempting to overtake; he was slowing down because he too could not see anything. He lacked the bravery to carry on at the same speeds I was racing at. I looked over, after I felt the shunt, and saw the faint outline of a kart hitting a tire wall.
I was overcome with guilt in that moment. In hindsight, how was I expected to know that he would choose to begin slowing down on the racing line, on the straightaway, with no other warning? I shouldn't have felt guilty about it, but i did. The race ended two laps later. Somehow, I miraculously finished mostly problem-free, and earned my second place trophy. At least, the officials think I finished second. No one knows where anyone finished. The timing & scoring team couldn't verify the results due to the darkness.
A little delay, a little shoddy organization, and a tinted helmet visor is all it took to toss an amateur karting race into massive disarray. Your window tint might help, during the day, but if you're running around in your car with 5% transparency/light transmission window tint, how do you reverse at night, safely, and without hitting something? How do you watch for pedestrians, animals, and other unlit road-side hazards?
I ask you this: did you make the right choice? When I chose my tinted helmet visor that night, I certainly didn't. And, to whomever it was that ended up in that tire wall, I sincerely hope that you'll accept my apologies. I would have apologized sooner, if I had known whom to apologize to! Strange things happen when you drive but can't see, and not even racing drivers can drive blind.
Drew Geier is a Canadian petrolhead whose main mission is to make motoring accessible, enjoyable, and affordable well into the future, by improving the art, hobby and lifestyle of motoring. He builds cars, and he writes about other builds. He's built a Subaru WRX and is building a Honda Civic EK.