Window Tint Laws in the USA: How Dark Can You Go?
A window tint on your car can improve its aesthetic looks while also affording you protection against the sun’s harmful...
A window tint on your car can improve its aesthetic looks while also affording you protection against the sun’s harmful UV-A and UV-B rays which have been empirically proven to be a major factor in the development of certain types of skin cancer. Unfortunately, if you live in the United States, you may not really have the privilege of putting on the darkest, most UV-protective window tint on your vehicle since there are tint laws that you have to comply with. To complicate the issue, each state typically has its own piece of legislation that regulates the kind of tint that can be applied onto vehicles registered in a particular state. As such, the question as to how dark your car window tint can go actually depends on the prevailing tint law in your state.
The Basics of Tint Laws
While different states have different tint laws, a great majority focus their legislation on the regulation of certain elements in vehicle window tinting. In general, these laws are primarily concerned about the vehicle’s luminous reflectance and light transmittance capabilities. In other words, many of these tint laws would like to set the standards as to the level of visibility that the glass allows and the amount of light that can pass or get through the glass.
For example, if a particular state requires all vehicles to have a visible light transmission (VLT) rating of 70%, such as what they have in Alaska, then this means that your vehicle’s window glass should allow for at least 70% visibility. If your vehicle has a VLT% of less than 70, then you are not complying with the tint law. Thankfully, however, and this is where the irony in the ‘United’ of the US comes in, there are also states that have more lax requirements.
But before you start cursing the tint law in your state, you’d have to understand that this is basically to protect you by improving your overall visibility of the road. As such, the different minimum VLT requirements observed by different states are inherently tied to general environmental conditions. For instance, everyone knows that road visibility in Alaska can definitely be one of the worst. Now, compare this with sunny Florida and you can appreciate why Florida tint laws only require a minimum of 28% VLT.
Of course, just because you live in a sunny environment where visibility is exceptionally good even if your car has a very dark tint the VLT% can already be set to the lowest. Consider, for example, California. It is relatively sunny and warm yet the VLT% for the front side windows is also set at 70%. This is basically to allow law enforcement officers to have a good look at the occupants of any vehicle.
Another point that you have to understand is that the degree of visible light transmission as required by state law actually varies in the location of the window. For instance, while California requires the front side windows of any car to have 70% visibility, the rear side windows and rear window can actually come in even the darkest possible tint you can imagine. Compare this with Arizona where both the front and rear side windows can have a minimum VLT of 25%. For the rear window, the minimum is at 10%.
How about the windshield? You will find a great majority of states observing a no-tint to very minimal tinting on the windshield. There are also specific provisions on the size of decals or stickers you can place on your windshield as well as where you are supposed to place them. When it comes to the visor band of tinting on the windshield, different states have different sizes, too. For example, the maximum in Alabama is 6 inches while California puts it at 4 inches.
As for the color of the tint, most states agree that one-way glass, mirrored materials, or opaque materials should never be placed on the window glass as these eliminate visibility and light transmission.
The Tint-Friendly and the Not-so-Tint-Friendly States
We decided to give you a more comprehensive view of which states have generally friendlier tint laws so you will also know what to do.
These are states that have relatively low VLT% requirements, typically ranging in the 30%. The best news is that a great majority of the country’s 50 states belong to this classification.
These states have very tricky, exceptionally stringent tint laws. California and Delaware require 70% VLT on front side windows. Rhode Island and New York requires 70% VLT for the front and rear side windows. Michigan, Vermont, New Hampshire, Washington DC and New Jersey also have very strict requirements on at least one of the criteria for vehicle tinting. The trickiest of them all are Texas and Illinois.
These may have VLT% requirements that are somewhat in the middle. States that observe these include Alabama, Hawaii, Kansas, Virginia, Wisconsin, Alaska, Iowa, North Dakota, Louisiana, Utah, Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Minnesota.
Medical Necessity Exemptions
Like all laws there are also exemptions to tint laws. Generally, these are medical conditions that may be exacerbated by exposure to the sun’s rays. Different states will have different diseases that are included in their tint law exemptions. Examples of these medical conditions can include the following.
- Systemic lupus erythematosus
- Lichen planus actinus
- Bloom syndrome
- Actinic folliculitis
- Polymorphic light eruptions
- Disseminated superficial actinic porokeratosis
- Solar urticarial
- Hydroa vacciniforme
- Xeroderma pigmentosum
Individuals who have these conditions are expected to carry appropriate documentation of their medical condition every time they ride on their tinted vehicles. The documentation should show the following basic information:
- A medically-diagnosed condition which a licensed medical professional certifies to be exacerbated or is affected by exposure to sunlight;
- The specific amount of UV exposure that will meet the requirements of the medical condition;
- The length or duration of the UV-limitation prescription; and
- The specific vehicle upon which the window tint exemption is applied.
If you’re not sure whether your vehicle is complying with your state’s tint law requirements, you may want to have it inspected and its VLT accurately measured using a photometer. The department of motor vehicles in your state is always a good place to start.