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Been left in the dark by UK visor laws? You’re not the only one

Published: 01 February 2000

IF the rain’s beating down or you’re fighting against a 100mph wind, there’s one safety device you can’t do without. It’s called a visor. They come in all shapes and sizes and all kinds of colours and tints, but all do the same job of protecting us from whatever the weather or road can throw at us.

Visors now come in more styles and variations than ever before, but there’s still some doubt about exactly what degree of tint you can get away with in the fabulous legal system that is British law. Is a lightly smoked visor legal? Would you get less grief for an iridium-coated visor as they’re not quite as dark as a true dark visor? Can you get pulled for wearing Blues Brothers-style sunglasses at night?

If there’s one thing that is clear in this murky area, it’s that you are committing a crime every time you go out on the road wearing an obviously dark visor of the type you have to buy under the counter or pretend is just for racing or track days.

Nevertheless, it’s an offence that most traffic police and especially bike cops would let you off with if you’re pulled and it’s blazing sunshine.

If it’s raining and just about to get dark you’ll probably be looking at three points, but that’s just commonsense for most of us. The solution is to carry a clear visor if you think conditions are about to change and to be polite to the police if you are stopped.

The current law says the legal limit for light transmission, and the same for a car windscreen, is 70 per cent.

But changes are on the way and it’s heavily rumoured by senior police staff that visors marked " for daytime use only " letting through a minimum of 50 per cent light will become legal under the new legislation. Unfortunately we can’t tell you when this ruling will come in to force, but it’s likely to be sometime this year.

But the way it stands at the moment, the only real legal visor is one carrying the British Standard kitemark.

Of course, you can always use a pair of trick Oakleys under a clear visor to protect your eyes from the sun – even though you can’t take them off if you come up to a tunnel. It doesn’t make much sense, but it is legal.

But with the law about to change, we managed to get hold of a new device that’s just started being used by police forces in the UK. It’s called the Tintman and basically uses its own light source to calculate the maximum available light a visor will let through.

The test makes interesting reading as some supposedly legal visors, like Arai’s very light smoked visor, widely recognised as legal because of the BSI kitemark, doesn’t actually fit the current standard and only lets through 57 per cent of available light. But it’s not only that which makes this law such a farce. We tried the Tintman with a pair of Oakley sunglasses and amazingly, despite being completely legal under a clear visor, they only let through 14 per cent of available light.

To give you some idea of what you’re wearing and how legal/illegal it is to use on the road, here are some examples we tested with the Tintman using the centre of the visor to test the available light coming through:

n Suomy iridium – 11.4 per cent

n Arai light smoke (kitemarked) – 57 per cent

n Arai clear (kitemarked) – 88 per cent

n BMW System 4, dark smoke – 15 per cent

n Roof Boxer, dark smoke – 16.2 per cent

n Roof Roadster, dark smoke – 19.2 per cent

n Bob Heath, daytime use smoke – 50 per cent

n Shoei daytime use, light smoke – 57 per cent

n Shoei, dark smoke – 20 per cent

n Shoei clear visor (kitemarked) – 89 per cent.

What this test reflects is that even the visors believed to be legal and stamped with the kitemark don’t always fall in line with the law.

Even clear visors don’t give a 100 per cent reading. That’s down to a phenomenon known as refraction. No matter how clear a visor is, it’s always going to disperse some light because of the thickness of the material it’s passing through and the curvature of the visor.

So far the Tintman is only being used by the Met and South Yorkshire police, but it will only be a matter of time before other forces invest in them. The good news is that they aren’t part of some vendetta against motorcyclists – officers are just as interested in blacked-out windows on boy-racer Escorts.

But there’s more to visors than just looking out of them, they also have to be thick enough to withstand stringent testing for safety approval. For instance, in testing to gain the kitemark, a lead pellet, around the size of a bullet, is fired at visors at around 150mph and the visor fails if it lets the lead through. It’s this kind of testing which makes sure you stay safe if a stone is thrown up by the traffic in front of you.

Visors are also manufactured to give the optimum peripheral vision, including 210° of sight from left to right of the user. And they’re also made out of materials strong enough to not distort if sprayed with something like petrol should you have a little accident at the fuel pump.