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Why having your car windows tinted too dark is illegal in Wisconsin

Milwaukee police say 168 people were cited for tinted window violations in 2021 and another 113 were cited last year.
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Posted at 1:53 PM, Jan 10, 2023
and last updated 2023-01-10 14:53:23-05

MILWAUKEE — While tinted windows might look cool, it's important to know Wisconsin state law. If you're not careful, you could get a ticket.

"In Wisconsin, we can tint however the customer wants," said Joe Paulson, the owner at Expert Electronics - a Milwaukee auto shop where window tinting is a popular service. "What's kind of weird about Milwaukee is that a lot of people want the whole windshield tinted, which is very surprising because it's very hard to see where you're going when the whole windshield's tinted."

Paulson said he makes customers who want to tint their windows darker than what is legally allowed to sign a waiver, releasing his business from liability.

"We say 'hey, this is a really bad idea, this is stupid, it's way too dark but if you want to do it anyway we'll do it," said Paulson.

Window tinting is measured by the Visible Light Transmission (VLT), or how much light can get through the tinted film that is covering the window.

"The lower the number, the darker the tint. So, 5% is limousine tint. It's pitch black, as dark as it gets," explained Paulson. "What Wisconsin wants you to get is 35% on the back doors and 50% on the front doors."

Paulson said many customers ask for darker tints on the front because 50% is almost clear and he said most customers do so even when they know they are breaking the law.

Laws like these are common. Only three states don't allow window tinting (at least in the front of the vehicle). They are New Jersey, Vermont, and New Hampshire. Additionally, there is only one state that allows drivers to tint their windows to any percentage. That state is Michigan. The remaining states all have laws that vary, allowing different amounts of tint and color.

Milwaukee Police say 168 people were cited for tinted window violations in 2021 and another 113 were cited last year. Those citations came with a fine of $98.80.

Andrew Wagner, President of the Milwaukee Police Association, says the law exists for two reasons.

First, for the safety of the people inside the car.

"At night, the higher the tint is on the windows, the less visibility the driver has to see oncoming traffic and cars moving and things like that," said Wagner.

Secondly, for the safety of police officers if they have to pull a car over.

"The visibility can be limited to even know how many people are there. It could be limited to know if this person is fidgeting with stuff, are they reaching under the seat, trying to harm us," said Wagner.

When asked if he thought auto shops and tint installers should be held more accountable for installing tints that are illegal for the customer to drive around with, Wagner said he would be open to seeing what a law change would look like in terms of enforcement. However, he added that at the end of the day, private businesses should be able to offer services to purchasing customers and it should be up to individuals to be responsible when tinting their windows.

Back at Expert Electronics, Joe Paulson said he believes the law is too harsh. He thinks there are other ways to ensure the safety of law enforcement while allowing tints.

For example, he offered this hypothetical:

"When you get pulled over, they have a secondary law where you have to roll all your windows down and I think that as long as your windows are rolled down, it doesn't matter how dark the windows are when you're being pulled over," he said.

In Illinois, the law is less strict than it is in Wisconsin. Front and rear windows can have 35% tint in that state.

In Minnesota the law is more strict, drivers can't have their front windows tinted and can only tint their rear windows 50%.