Tinted window citations are infuriating to safe streets advocates because they divert precious enforcement resources away from behaviors that have a higher impact on public safety (speeding, for instance). In 2011 the NYPD wrote four times as many tickets for tinted windows as speeding; last year the ratio dropped to 2:1. But at yesterday's City Council oversight hearing on the NYPD's crash investigations, the NYPD's Chief of Transportation explained the department's fixation with ticketing shaded motorists, and assured us that Highway Patrol isn't combing the streets looking for illegal windows.

The issue came up because Councilmember Peter Vallone, Jr. commented on some literature handed out by Transportation Alternatives. After congratulating the group for their work, he scolded them.

I want to congratulate [the NYPD] on all those tinted window violations, because I think we should keep that up. While we can all agree we need more speeding violations, these tinted windows violations are a serious matter. This [the literature] says "Not a single fatality was caused by excessively tinted windows." Yeah, but police fatalities are attributed to excessively tinted windows. I think we need to end this fixation on tinted windows.

Deputy Commissioner, Transportation Bureau John Cassidy then explained why the NYPD hands out so many tickets for tinted windows.

The tinted windows, on top of the officers' safety issue, the tinted windows give us grave concern…I had received once a loaner car…It was a car that was obviously used at one time maybe in an undercover operation, and the windows were heavily tinted, and at that time I was working in Manhattan. And driving home that night you literally looked out the side windows and were not able to see pedestrians at the corners or bicyclists. You could see cars with the lights but anything else could not be visibly seen.

One of our concerns is these people with the heavily tinted windows are not actually seeing pedestrians or bicyclists or other vehicles that are not lit crossing in their path. Now, if that can be an obstruction to your vision in Manhattan, which is extremely well lit under most circumstances, we see that as a real concern in the outer boroughs.

That focus on the tinted windows is also something that...That number is gotten many times at checkpoints that we set up. So instead of more or less stopping cars for tinted windows, what we're really doing, we have checkpoints set up around the city at given times in which we're doing enforcement for DWI.

Also: ticketing for tinted windows is really easy, especially when the expertise and technology to stop speeders is at a premium. But point taken!

Despite the Highway Bureau's many deficiencies that were laid bare at the hearing, Transportation Alternatives' executive director, Paul Steely White, said he was hopeful more progress would be made.

"We've never had this much cooperation from the NYPD, the DAs, and our elected officials to step up enforcement," White told us after the hearing, noting that the demeanor of the NYPD officials was considerably less combative compared to the last joint oversight hearing. "But there's still a lot to be done."