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California Vehicle Window Tint (CA Vehicle Code section 26708)

In this post, I’m going to discuss California law regarding automotive window tint. Many vehicles are sold new with window tint from the manufacturer. If your particular vehicle did not come with window tint originally, you can also, obviously, get tint installed aftermarket or do the tinting yourself. If you’re in this second category of car owners — in other words, your vehicle was not sold brand new with tinted windows and you’re getting it installed — you need to make sure your tint complies with California law. If it doesn’t, then you could get pulled over by law enforcement officers just because you have illegal tint.

If you’re interested in it, the reason why you can be pulled over just for illegal tint has to do with Probable Cause and the 4th Amendment to the US Constitution. As I’ll explain below, window tinting on automobiles in California is covered by the California Vehicle Code. There are a variety of court cases in California that hold that any act which appears to violate the California Vehicle Code — including burned out tail lights, expired registration, speeding, stop sign violations, etc. — is sufficient to constitute probable cause that would justify a detention by law enforcement officers.

Anyway, aside over, the most common scenario — at least in my experience — is that the tint is darker than California law allows so that’s what I’ll go over below.

The California law in question here is going to section 26708 of the California Vehicle Code. Section 26708 goes over several things, including where on the windshield you can legally affix items such as a GPS navigation device (section 26709(b)(12)), windshield-mounted camera (section 26709(b)(13) and (14), and electronic toll device (section 26709(b)(11)). If you’ve ever wondered about any of those things, give section 26708 a read. If your windshield has one of those blue sun visor strips at the top like the one below, Section 26708 covers that also.

Section 26708(d) goes over window tint for, basically, the front door windows of the vehicle. Section 26708(e) goes over window tint for all of the vehicle’s other windows, including the windshield. Each section has five criteria that need to be satisfied. A described below, criteria (1), (2), (3), and (5) are identical while (4) is different. All five of the criteria specified in each section must be satisfied at all times. If any one of them is not, then the tint in question is technically illegal.

For completeness, I’ll first mention that section 26708(d) prefaces these five criteria with “Notwithstanding subdivision (a), clear, colorless, and transparent material may be installed, affixed, or applied to the front side windows, located to the immediate left and right of the front seat if the following conditions are met”. I’ve added the italicized and underlined portion. Section 26708(e) prefaces it with “Notwithstanding subdivision (a), clear, colorless, and transparent material may be installed, affixed, or applied to the windshield, side, or rear windows of a motor vehicle if the following conditions are met:” Again, I’ve added the italicized and underlined portion.

“(1) The material has a minimum visible light transmittance of 88 percent.

(2) The window glazing with the material applied meets all requirements of Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard No. 205 (49 C.F.R. 571.205), including the specified minimum light transmittance of 70 percent and the abrasion resistance of AS–14 glazing, as specified in that federal standard.

(3) The material is designed and manufactured to enhance the ability of the existing window glass to block the sun’s harmful ultraviolet A rays.

(5) If the material described in this subdivision tears or bubbles, or is otherwise worn to prohibit clear vision, it shall be removed or replaced.”

For section 26708(d) — in other words, tint on the front door windows — criteria (4) is:

(4) The driver has in his or her possession, or within the vehicle, a certificate signed by the installing company certifying that the windows with the material installed meet the requirements of this subdivision and the certificate identifies the installing company and the material’s manufacturer by full name and street address, or, if the material was installed by the vehicle owner, a certificate signed by the material’s manufacturer certifying that the windows with the material installed according to manufacturer’s instructions meet the requirements of this subdivision and the certificate identifies the material’s manufacturer by full name and street address.

For section 26708(e) — in other words, tint on all the other windows of the vehicle that are not the front door windows — criteria (4) is instead:

(4) The driver has in his or her possession, or within the vehicle, a certificate signed by a licensed dermatologist certifying that the person should not be exposed to ultraviolet rays because of a medical condition that necessitates clear, colorless, and transparent film material to be installed on the windshield, side, or rear windows.

I’ve bolded and underlined some key passages in criteria (1) and (2) above which answer the question of whether a tint is too dark. As usual, the answer is not as simple as it should be. There are two separate conditions that the tint has to meet in order to be legal.

First, you have to look at the tinting material itself. As best as I’m aware, this is usually a film that can be purchased in rolls. The film is then applied to the window itself to actually accomplish the tint. This tinting material on its own (i.e. before it is applied to a window) has to transmit at least 88% of visible light through it. That’s what criteria (1) above says.

The second condition is that the vehicle’s window — when the tinting material is applied — has to transmit at least 70% of visible light through it. In my opinion, the 70% number is the one that you need to be most concerned about because the officer who pulls you over is, obviously, going to see your window with the tint already installed.

Again, to be perfectly clear, I’m only discussing those portions of the five criteria that pertain to the darkness of the tint. There are other requirements that need you need to comply with, such as having the signed certificate in your possession as indicated in (4).

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Andy Chen

Andy I. Chen is a lawyer licensed to practice law in California and New York. Andy maintains offices in Los Altos, California and Modesto, California. Under the New York Court of Appeals' 2015 decision in Schoenefeld v. State of New York, Andy does not accept cases from those in New York state. He does, however, know many lawyers in New York state and would be happy to make a referral.

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