There’s no denying tinted windows have a certain appeal. They provide privacy, keep the sun from shining in your eyes, and protect your skin from UV rays.
But what are the legal implications of having tinted windows? How dark do they have to be before a cop will pull you over? And how do you know how dark yours are?
This post will explain how dark you can legally tint your windows and what to do if they get you stopped by the police.
How Does Window Tinting Work?
Window tint can be any material that makes your windows darker and allows less light to pass through them. There are three common window tinting methods.
- Film tinting: a thin film gets applied to your window glass, making them darker.
- Coated tinting: tint gets sprayed or painted onto your window.
- Tinted glass: the tint is added when the windows are made.
The last method is the only one that comes with your car, rather than being applied later by a window tinting professional.
Legally, it doesn’t matter what type of window tinting you have. What matters is the tint’s darkness.
What Is the Law on Window Tinting?
First, you should know there are two types of laws related to window tinting: laws for drivers and laws for installers.
- Drivers: Laws that prohibit drivers from operating a vehicle with windows that are too dark.
- Installers: Laws that prohibit installing window tinting that’s too dark.
Let’s focus on laws for drivers for now.
Tip: If you recently moved to Oregon, you should also be aware that, even if you didn’t purchase your car in Oregon, it’s subject to Oregon law once you bring it here.
How Dark Is too Dark?
Laws in Oregon are very specific about tint darkness, as well as which windows can be tinted. The only windows you can legally tint are the side windows, rear windows, and the top six inches of the windshield.
For side and rear windows, Oregon law (§ 815.221) says:
- The tinting material must have a light transmittance of 50% or more;
- The tinting material must have a light reflectance of 13% or less; and
- Total light transmittance through the window must be 35% or more.
On the windshield, tinting material can have a light transmittance below 50%, and total light transmittance through the tinted part of the window can be less than 35%, provided that the tinting is only on the top six inches of the windshield.
There are only a few exceptions. Multipurpose passenger vehicles, like pickups and SUVs, can get away with darker tint, as can people with an affidavit (written statement) from a licensed physician or optometrist.
Now you know how dark you window tint can be legally, but there’s just one problem:
How Do I Know How Dark my Windows Are?
Most people don’t have a way of measuring the exact percentages of their window tint darkness. How do you make sure that whoever installed it did it correctly?
To some extent, you’re relying on the installer (whoever sold you the tinted windows), but there are a few things you can do to avoid getting stuck with too-dark window tint.
First, make sure you’re working with a reputable company by doing plenty of research first. Check online for Yelp and Google reviews, and ask plenty of question before you let them tint your windows.
Second, and most importantly, make sure you get a certificate. Anyone who installs window tinting is legally required to give you a certificate showing that tinting material is in compliance with the law (§ 815.221). To be safe, make sure your certificate has the name and address of the installer, as well as the light transmittance and light reflectance of the tinting material.
If you buy a car that already has tinting in the windows, the best thing you can do is go to a reputable tint installer and have them test it. They’ll have the right equipment and the expertise.
Penalties for Breaking the Law
Here’s where the difference between driving with and installing window tinting gets important.
Selling or installing window tint that is too dark is more serious. That’s a Class A misdemeanor, which can be punished by prison time.
What’s the difference between a misdemeanor and a traffic violation in court?
If you’re accused of a misdemeanor, like installing window tinting that’s too dark, the state must prove your guilt beyond a reasonable doubt — to 99% certainty.
If you’re accused of a traffic violation, like driving with tinted windows, the state must prove guilt to a preponderance of the evidence — to 51% certainty.
That means, once accused, it’s much more difficult to be found innocent of a traffic violation than a misdemeanor.
If you’ve already been cited for driving with windows that are too dark, here’s some good news: they just changed the law in 2015 so that you may be able to get out of a fine (or pay much less) simply by getting your windows modified to a legal darkness. Just make sure you get a certificate and keep your receipt!
Now the question is, if you have tinted windows, how likely are you to get pulled over?
Will I Be Pulled Over?
Even an experienced police officer probably can’t tell the difference between 25% and 35% light transmittance. So how do they know who to stop?
Any time a police officer stops you, they need to have “reasonable suspicion” that a crime has been or is in the process of being committed. If a police officer sees your windows and thinks they look too dark, that qualifies as reasonable suspicion.
Once you’re stopped, the officer will use a device called a light meter to find out how dark your windows actually are.
Because of the “reasonable suspicion” rule, it’s not uncommon for police officers to use window tinting as a pretext—or an excuse—for stopping you so they can look for evidence of another crime.
If an officer thinks you might be driving under the influence of intoxicants, they can pull you over for dark window tinting, and then shift the conversation to pursue a DUII investigation.
There has to be objective and reliable evidence for an officer to expand the reason for stopping you, though. If you seem intoxicated or have visible intoxicants in the car, that’s evidence enough.
As a lawyer who has worked on DUII cases for years, I can tell you this happens often.
Be prepared for the officer to ask to search your car. Many people don’t realize this, but you don’t have to consent to a search. If an officer asks to search your car, you have the right to say no.
Police officers are trained to ask questions that make you feel pressured to let them search, such as: “Why don’t you want me to look?” or “Is there something you don’t want me to see?”
You’re not legally obligated to justify your reason for refusing the search, either. Your car is your property, and an officer can’t search it without your consent unless they have a search warrant or they’re arresting you.
If you peacefully refuse, and there’s no reason to arrest you, the officer has no other option except to let you go.
But if an officer can pull you over just because your windows look dark, is having tinted windows really worth it, even if you have every reason to believe they’re legal?
Unless you have a medical need for them, I never recommend tinted windows, and here’s why: tinted windows make police officers nervous.
Think about it: What’s the number one reason people get tinted windows? Privacy. Some people tint their windows to hide weapons in the car, so police officers are bound to wonder what you need that privacy for.
I used to be a prosecutor, so I have a lot of sympathy for police officers. Most people don’t think about it much, but they deal with a certain level of risk any time they pull someone over.
If your windows are tinted, an officer can’t see into the car as they’re walking up behind you, and they have no idea what’s waiting for them. Dark windows make the situation much scarier for the officer and much riskier for you.
Trust me, the last thing you want is a nervous cop.
That’s why I don’t recommend window tinting. There are many more negatives than there are positives. If the sun is bothering you, get a good pair of sunglasses that block UV rays.
If you need dark windows for health reasons, keep the paperwork from your doctor in your car at all times.
If you’ve been cited for driving in Oregon with too-dark windows, or if you were pulled over for your windows and then cited for a DUII, I can help.
Call me at (503) 227-3800 for a free consultation.