Sheffield City Council has relaxed regulations on tinted glass in taxis - saying that vehicle manufacturers are using ever-darker privacy glass in the rear windows of new cars.
Under the council’s previous taxi licensing policy, vehicles needed to have a minimum of 75 per cent light density in the front windscreen, and 70 per cent light density in the remaining windows.
This is to ensure the safety of lone passengers in the back seats, as well as the protection of the driver - as both can be clearly seen by passers-by.
But a meeting of the council’s licensing committee heard that the situation had become impossible, as manufacturers increasingly installed privacy which let in less light - typically 65 per cent light transparency.
The authority has a responsibility to protect the public, safeguard children and the vulnerable and prevent crime, disorder and public nuisance, in any decisions it makes.
But speaking at the meeting at Sheffield Town Hall, council officer Clive Stephenson the authority had not received any complaints regarding tinted glass in licensed vehicles, and no incidents had been reported to the police.
He said: “Many vehicles are now getting what what the companies class as privacy glass, which is darker. There is also more glass in vehicles and we are getting far more people carriers.
“We have had some problems as officers have had to turn away brand new vehicles as they don’t fit the required specifications and replace glass at considerable expense, and you would not be able to any significant difference between 65 and 70 per cent.”
As an alternative, councillors were asked to consider installing CCTV in vehicles that did not meet the specification, but the idea was ruled out.
Speaking at the meeting, Lee Ward, chairman of private hire association ALPHA, said: “The level of tint has no impact on the safety of the driver or the passenger and until CCTV is made mandatory I don’t see any reason for this committee to jump the gun as having CCTV fitted doesn’t make a driver any more credible, and having tinted glass has no impact on a passenger attacking a driver.”
The committee also heard from drivers that installing CCTV or replacing glass has a significant financial impact - around £1,200 for a replacement rear window on a new vehicle - while CCTV would cost for installation and maintenance.
The hearing also considered amending the policy to ensure vehicles were fitted to the standard glass specification, but the idea was considered too complicated for enforcement officers to police, as different vehicle makes had different specifications.
Speaking at the meeting, Liberal Democrat Councillor Joe Otten said: “I’m minded to go for a number rather than a manufacturer’s specification. I don’t think we have heard convincing arguments about safety so I would be happy to go for a range of 55 to 60.
“Those are the cars that exist and that people like to drive, ride in and buy. There’s a demand for that kind of vehicle and it’s not our job to go against the trends of the sort of the sorts of vehicles that people want to use.
“If someone wants to go darker than 55 to 60 then they should have CCTV.”
Taxi drivers also said that the new darker windows were putting them off buying new vehicles, and many were buying second hand vehicles with greater light permeation through the rear windows.
Committee chairman Councillor David Barker said the authority also had a responsibility to ensure the city’s 1,400 private hire fleet was in good condition.
He said: “I really don’t think that tinted glass is causing public safety issues. We had a report saying that Sheffield taxi drivers are amongst the best in the country and putting a slightly heavier tint on the back window isn’t going to alter the drivers.
“I’m also concerned about having a blanket ruling on CCTV. I would like to see newer and better vehicles on the roads. We have been doing nothing with this for the past two years - 60 to 65 per cent is a reasonable figure and anything over that needs to referred back to this committee.”
Green Councillor Douglas Johnson proposed that the issue be deferred while officers gathered further information on individual vehicle specifications.
But the committee ruled that, as the issue had been under consideration since 2016, a decision needed to be made.
Councillors voted by majority to change their licensing policy to allow 60 per cent light permeation in the rear windows of vehicles.
Vehicles that have tints of less than 60 per cent will be referred to the licensing committee on a case by case basis, where members may rule that rear windows need to be replaced or CCTV fitted.