Clearing Up Tinting Laws

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WILKES-BARRE -- Whether it's for shade, safety, or just to look cool, some people are looking to have their car windows tinted this summer.

Some area shops tell us they are backed up with business.

But dark windows can be tough to see through and could land you in legal trouble.

With squeegees, heat guns, and razors in hand, workers inside the Tint Shoppe on Blackman Street in Wilkes-Barre have their hands full. the waiting list for tinted windows is a week long. For about $250 employees use rolls of tinted film, to darken the windows on brand new SUVs and used cars.

"If you're inside the car and your windows should break for whatever reason, in a fender bender, your glass won't explode on your face. It'll break, but it'll be like a spider web," said Vincent Nardone of The Tint Shoppe.

Nardone says car owners have come to his business for the past 23 years   looking to have their windows tinted for safety, as well as for privacy, to deter break-ins, and to cut down on sunlight in the day and high beams at night.

But how dark is too dark?

"When you're crossing the line, then you're getting in trouble," said Nardong. "On SUVs it's different. The back doors and the cargo area, it's different. It's legal as dark as you want."

State police say that's not the case. At the Wyoming barracks, Trooper Tom Kelly showed us how a tint meter works.  The device is suctioned onto the inside of a window during a traffic stop to measure how much light can pass through tinted windows.

"We're getting 55 percent right now. Technically, that would be a citable offense."

Trooper Kelly says 70 percent of light needs to be able to pass through front driver and passenger side windows. That number is a PennDOT vehicle regulation.

"If it's used for show or if it's used for a racetrack or private property, it's legal. As soon as you drive that vehicle on a state road or government road, it's illegal," Kelly said.

This is where it gets confusing. PennDOT officials say the mandate for 70 percent of light to pass through a tinted window is a vehicle code regulation.

Yet according to PennDOT, inspection stations don't have to report or fail a vehicle during an annual inspection if the windows are tinted darker than that 70 percent limit.

"It's total discretion upon enforcement. There's some officers out there that can't stand window tint and will cite every car they see for it and there's officers who don't mind it. It's a roll of the dice," Kelly added.

State law says it is illegal to drive a vehicle with window tint so dark that you cannot see into the car from outside. One driver in the Harrisburg area fought a $108 ticket for illegally tinted windows in 2008. The case went all the way to the state superior court two years later.   His conviction was overturned because the tinted window law is vague.

But whatever the law says, officers say tinted windows are dangerous during traffic stops.

"Some tint is so black, you can't tell if there's one person or five in there. That's something I definitely want to know as I'm approaching a car. Are there animals in there? Are there people in there armed?" said Trooper Kelly.

At the Tint Shoppe, Nardone says he tells his customers to use common sense when picking their shade of window tint.

"Most of the cops around here, they want to be able to see in, and we encourage customers to let them see in. We do a lot of cops' personal cars and they like to set an example. They go with the light to medium shade."