Any southern California driver can attest to the large number of vehicles on the road with darkly tinted windows. While this might lead one to believe that California does not regulate window tinting, the reality is that California window tinting laws are quite strict. Non-compliance can lead to fines and can serve as a pretext for undesired law enforcement stops. So what exactly does California law require? We put together the following comprehensive summary of California's window tinting laws to help you ensure your compliance.
I. Front Windshield Tint Laws
California allows for the application of a transparent material to the topmost portion of the front windshield of your vehicle, subject to the following conditions:
The bottom edge of the material must be at least 29 inches above the driver's seat when in its rearmost and lowermost position. This generally corresponds to the top 4 inches of the windshield.
The material cannot be red or amber in color.
Opaque (non-transparent) lettering is prohibited, as is lettering that may distort vision through the windshield.
The material must be non-reflective, meaning it cannot reflect sunlight or headlight glare into the eyes of occupants of oncoming or following vehicles more than the bare window would.
Additionally, signs, stickers, or other materials may be displayed in a 7-inch square in the lower corner of the windshield on the passenger side, furthest from the driver, and/or in a 5-inch square in the lower corner of the windshield closest to the driver.
II. Front Side Windows Tint Laws
Front side window tint is where most violations occur. On these windows of your vehicle, only clear, colorless, and transparent material (not tinted material) is allowed. Furthermore, that material must meet the following requirements:
The covering is designed and manufactured to enhance the ability of the existing glass to block UVA rays.
The material does not reflect more light than the bare window.
The material has a minimum visible light transmittance of 88 percent (which is the visible light transmittance of standard car windows).
In addition to all the above, you must have a certificate from the installing company or the material's manufacturer, which verifies compliance with the above requirements. If the material tears, bubbles, or is otherwise worn to the extent that it prohibits clear vision, it must be removed or replaced. No stickers or decorations are permitted on the front side windows.
III. Rear Side Windows & Rear Windshield Tint Laws
You may install any darkness of tint on your rear side windows and rear windshield, provided:
Your car has outside mirrors on both sides that offer at least 200 feet of visibility.
The tint coating is no more reflective than bare glass (no mirrored tint).
The tint is not colored (i.e., red, amber, or blue).
IV. Medical Exemptions
California does not permit medical exemptions for tinting on a vehicle's windshield or front passenger window. However, pursuant to California Vehicle Code section 26708, sun-screening devices may be installed on the side windows on either side of the front seat if:
The driver or a front seat passenger possesses a letter or document signed by a licensed physician or optometrist certifying that the person requires shading from the sun due to a medical or visual condition.
The sun-screening device is used only when the certified occupant is in the car.
The device is not used during darkness.
V. Legal Consequences of Violating California's Window Tinting Laws
If a law enforcement officer stops your vehicle and determines that your window tinting is in violation of California law, you may receive a "fix-it" ticket, which requires you to pay a $25 fine and to remove the tinting within a specified time frame. Failure to comply with the fix-it ticket can lead to further penalties, including fines and additional citations. In some cases, law enforcement will cite you with an infraction that comes with a $195 fine. Tinting citations and fines should not result in any "points" being added to your record for the purpose of determining what insurance rates you qualify for.
In summary, despite how things may appear, California actually has rather strict laws when it comes to window tinting. It surprises many people to learn that front side windows can never be tinted darker. It's important to adhere to California tinting requirements, both to avoid citations and also to avoid giving law enforcement a pretext for pulling you over.