It's pretty common to see vehicles with an extremely dark tint or window decals that make it impossible to see inside. When you see windows like this you might wonder whether it's legal. In truth, depending on the laws of your state, it might not be.
Every state has laws governing the required visibility for different windows, how dark tinting can be, and the penalties for violations. This article outlines many of the rules governing window tinting, decals, perforated vinyl, and other window obstructions.
Essentially, window tint is a coating that darkens windows and blocks a certain amount of light from passing through.
Most late-model cars come stock with window tinting. But car manufacturers make sure that the level of tinting is compliant with federal and state limits.
However, it's also possible to add tint to your vehicle windows by applying decals or films. When you see really dark tint on vehicle windows, it's typically something the owner had done after purchasing the vehicle.
If drivers wish to increase the tint of their windows, they should first check state laws regarding the specific limitations. Here are a few of the more common limits on window tinting.
Nearly every state requires the majority of the front windshield of vehicles to be completely transparent. In other words, no tinting or decals are allowed on the front windshield.
However, there is a specific portion of the windshield (above what's called the "AS-1 line") that can be tinted to soften the glare of the sun. The location of the AS-1 line is set by federal regulations and is typically about four or five inches from the top of the windshield. Generally, tinting is permitted above this line.
While tinting is normally permitted on the front driver- and passenger-side windows, state laws typically limit the degree of tint.
Each state sets a requirement on how transparent these windows must be. These requirements vary from about 24% (fairly dark tint) to 88% (slight tint) transparency. So, there's quite a range in the amount of tint that states allow.
All states permit window tinting on the rear windows, including the rear side and back windows. Generally, the tinting limits are more relaxed than those for front windows. Many states require as low as 35% transparency or have no limits on how dark the tint can be for rear windows.
Standard window tints are black but other colors are commercially available.
Before using a tint color other than black, make sure to check your state's laws. Some states prohibit certain window tint colors such as red, yellow, or amber.
Some window tints are also reflective. Reflective coatings are sometimes called "one-way glass." These tints allow persons inside the vehicle to see out but appear almost mirror-like from the outside.
About half of the states outright prohibit any reflective or metallic tinting. For states that do allow reflective windows, the window is only allowed to reflect a certain percentage of exterior light (usually a maximum of 20 to 35%).
For states with no specific laws regarding reflective tints, the same transparency rules that apply to all tinted windows are applicable.
Often seen in storefront windows, perforated vinyls are large pictures that appear as an image from the front but are transparent from the back. You might have seen perforated vinyls on cars in the form of a giant American flag or advertisements for various types of products.
Perforated vinyl doesn't prohibit the driver or passengers from seeing out of the vehicle. However, it does reduce visibility and the amount of light that passes through the window.
Because perforated vinyl is relatively new, most states don't have specific regulations regarding its use. In other words, perforated vinyl generally just needs to comply with tint and visibility requirements.
Drivers with certain medical conditions can get an exemption from tint restrictions. Typically, these types of exceptions are for individuals who are highly sensitive to light.
In most states, drivers must apply for the exception through the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) and provide proof of diagnosis (typically, a doctor's note).
Officers often carry small devices in their vehicles that allow them to measure the transparency of a window. With more obvious violations, such as tint on the windshield, no measurement is necessary—the violation can be seen with the naked eye.
Generally, a first window tint violation will result in a warning or "fix-it" ticket.
However, a window tint ticket can result in fines, possibly of up to $500. In some states, these violations can even lead to jail time.