Window Tint

Window tint is applied to vehicles for several reasons. It is often installed to keep the inside of the vehicle cooler, and some people install it because they believe it makes the car more attractive. Window tint can also prevent glares from the sun, and prevent harmful UV rays from reaching the car’s occupants. Some people actually have a valid medical need to keep their windows tinted. Regardless of the reason for window tint on a vehicle, car owners must abide by the window tinting laws in their states. To explore this concept, consider the following window tint definition.

Definition of Window Tint


  1. A film or coating applied to windows to block out the sunlight and harmful UV rays.


Circa 1940       American auto industry

What is Window Tint

Window tint refers to a special film or coating that may be applied to windows, whether on an automobile or building, to prevent a certain spectrum or amount of sunlight from passing through the glass. It is not uncommon for cars to have some level of tinting applied during manufacture, though the level of such tinting is generally light, so as to comply with all state laws. Tinting of windows in cars, trucks, and SUVs is regulated by the laws of each state, which attempt to balance driver comfort with automobile safety.

Even if the vehicle is not manufactured with window tint, owners can choose to have their windows tinted to keep out UV rays. This is often done by private companies specialized in tinting, but owners can also install the tint themselves by purchasing window tint or film. When an individual chooses a tint level, or installs his own tint, he risks violating state law regarding the level of tint allowed in his state of residence.

Window Tint Laws

State laws regulating window tinting are typically found within each state’s vehicle codes. In general, window tint laws are in place to prevent window tinting from becoming a safety hazard, as tint that is too dark can obstruct the driver’s view. In most states, window tinting includes not only heat-shrunk tinted films, but also shade bands, which are thin strips of tint that stretch across the top of a windshield. These laws also regulate the operation of a vehicle with temporary sunscreen devices, including those held onto the window with suction cups.

Most state laws specify acceptable levels of light transmission through the vehicle’s safety glass, and through the tinting. This is expressed in a percentage of Visible Light Transmission (“VLT”). In basic terms, this is the level of light that comes through the window, and therefore visibility afforded the driver.

State Regulations on Window Tint

Each state has regulations on how much light must pass through the window tint to be in compliance. These VLT levels vary by the specific location of the window, and some states have varying standards for different types of vehicles.

A person found in violation of state window tinting laws may be subject to a citation. The penalty is usually a fine, though the amount varies by state, and may increase for successive violations. In addition, a person guilty of multiple window tint violations may be placed on probation. In most jurisdictions, the court can also order that tint in violation of state law be removed from the car’s windows. Depending on the method used, this may require replacement of the windows, which is costly.

Testing Car Window Tint

In order to determine whether a car’s tinted windows meet state law, he may have the vehicle inspected using a light transmission device called a photometer. A licensed professional can accurately measure the VLT of car window tint. Companies that provide window tinting services can usually provide this service, and, should the tint exceed state allowance, give an estimate on correcting the problem.

To locate a business that inspects car window tint, a person can contact their local Department of Motor Vehicles. Local service stations may also have information about window tint inspections. Any owner of a vehicle with tinted windows who moves to a new state should have his car window tint re-inspected, as state laws vary. It is also important to know that traveling through other states with tinted windows may prove to be problematic.

Example of Window Tint Law Variations

Jeffery, who is a resident of Utah, has very dark window tint on his sedan’s rear windows, including the rear side windows, and his front side windows test at 43% VLT. His windows meet the legal requirements in Utah. When Jeffery moves to Wyoming, where the acceptable VLT is 28%. In this example of window tint laws, it is Jeffery’s responsibility to have his window tint tested, and he risks receiving a citation if he does not bring his windows into compliance.

Medical Necessity

For some people, having window tint is a medical necessity. The laws of many states make allowances for cars whose drivers or frequent passengers have certain specified medical conditions. In order to be exempted from window tint requirements, to a certain extent, proof of the person’s medical condition must be provided. In most cases, an official DMV form is available for a doctor’s use, though some states may accept a detailed letter from the individual’s physician.

Any form or letter submitted for the purpose of obtaining a window tint exemption must state which medical condition the individual suffers, and the specific amount of sunlight exposure he or she can tolerate. It should also state the duration of the need, whether temporary, or whether the condition is permanent. Medical exemptions are not given for any condition for which a good pair of sunglasses would suffice.

Medical conditions that often qualify a person for a medical necessity window tint exemption include:

  • Sunlight allergies
  • Melanoma
  • Lupus
  • Photosensitivity
  • Polymorphic light eruption
  • Persistent light reactivity or actinic rectuloid

If a person is stopped for a window-tint violation, he must provide the law enforcement officer with his DMV exemption letter. If he fails to do so, he may be required to show proof in court in order to avoid the penalties.

Window Tint Example Cases

Because window tint laws vary by state, there is much confusion among drivers who are stopped by law enforcement, and issued a citation. The following window tint cases illustrate how drivers are affected when crossing state lines.

Out-of-State Driver Appeal

In 1988, Robert Niebauer was stopped by the California Highway Patrol, and cited for a window tint violation. The citation was a “fix-it ticket,” requiring Niebauer to have the tint removed from the windows, and have the car inspected to release the citation. Niebauer went to court, rather than complying with the citation. The Municipal Court found him guilty, however, and he was ordered to one year on probation, and fined $40.

Niebauer appealed his case to the Superior Court in San Diego, which confirmed the Municipal Court’s ruling. Niebauer appealed again, to the federal 4th District Court, claiming that California’s window tint law was unconstitutional, based on the fact that it interfered with interstate commerce, as he was from Arizona, where window tint was legal. Niebauer also argued that the Highway Patrol officer had not used a meter to measure the percentage of his tint.

The appellate court judge ruled that tinted windshields and front-side windows are indeed illegal, as it hinders the driver’s view. In this example of window tint appeal, the court also ruled during the hearing that an officer does not need to use a meter to measure the tint, and that defendants could be charged based on the testimony of a law enforcement officer.

Misinterpretation of the Law

In 2008, Ben Brubaker was stopped on a Pennsylvania highway, and issued a citation for having tint that was “too dark” on his car’s side windows. Although the fine was only $108, Brubaker fought it for more than two years, taking his case all the way to the state Superior Court. Brubaker proved to the court that a small font typed on a piece of paper held up inside the tinted window could easily be seen, making his point that the tint was not too dark.

The court ruled in Brubaker’s favor, citing the state’s motor vehicle code, which read:

“No person shall drive any motor vehicle with any sun screening device or other material which does not permit a person to see or view the inside of the vehicle through the windshield, side wing or side window of the vehicle.”

Because the police officer was able to see Brubaker through the tinted windows, the tint was not “too dark.”

Related Legal Terms and Issues

  • Appellate Court – A court having jurisdiction to review decisions of a trial-level or other lower court.
  • Citation – An official order to appear in court.
  • DefendantA party against whom a lawsuit has been filed in civil court, or who has been accused of, or charged with, a crime or offense.
  • Exemption – The state of being free from an obligation or liability imposed on others.
  • Hearing – A proceeding before the court at which an issue of fact or law is heard, evidence presented, and a decision made.
  • Interstate Commerce – Commerce that involves transportation of money, goods, information, or people across state lines.

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