Can cops pull you over for window tint?

You landed in this page because you want to know if in PA, the police can pull you over for window tint. Maybe you got a break and they issued you a warning. Maybe the police are requiring you to remove the window tint within 5 days to avoid a ticket.

Most likely, you are here because the police either searched your car, towed your car to search it or arrested you for DUI or what they found in the car after the window tint violation. If that is so, then you really have two concerns?

  • Was it legal to pull you over just for window tint?
  • Did the police use the window tint as a “pre-text” to search your car and then charge you?

Window tint laws in PA

It depends on:

  1. what state the car is registered,
  2. what windows were tinted, and
  3. how much of a tint there was.

The initial answer is yes. If a car is registered in PA, then the police can pull you over for having non-factory installed tint on windows. But as usual with the law, it is much more complicated than that.

Under § 4524 of the Pennsylvania Vehicle Code, it is illegal to drive with sunscreen of any kind that does not allow a person outside the car to see inside the front windshield or either of the front side windows.

It is an older law that survives to today. Lawmakers justify this law because police fear heavily tinted windows for “officer safety” as it conceals what is going on inside during a traffic stop. Also, police say that the window tint hides drug dealing or other illegal activities inside the car.

Exceptions to the PA window tint law

The statute includes two exceptions. First, driving with tinted windows that have been installed by the manufacturer according to specifications for hearses, ambulances, or government vehicles is not a window tint violation. Second, for medical reasons a motorist can apply for and get a “certificate of exemption” per the federal regulations. It must stay with the car at all times. If you have either of these, the police may still pull you over for tint. However, if you show the police officer your exemption, you should not be given a citation. The police should immediately stop the traffic stop.

Do it yourself or buy it from somewhere window tint can be illegal in PA

But I bought the car like that…

Just because a used car dealership sells you a car with illegal window tinting is not an excuse under the law. Even though lots of shops install illegal window tint in PA, it is also not an excuse. Those stores do not have a duty to tell you what you want is illegal.

Pretext stop

Lots of times police sit and wait at “high crime” or “high drug” or “high DUI” areas. They can racial profile or age profile or economically profile folks. They say that they pulled you over for window tint, but they are actually looking for drugs, firearms or a DUI. According to a 2016 Case Western Reserve Law Review article “Thin Blue Lies,” these type of pre-text stops are rather frequent.

For example, the police will issue you a warning. Then, they ask for consent to search after they tell you that “you are free to go”. However, you are not really free. The police car lights are still on. Alternatively, the police car or cars have you completely boxed in so you cannot leave.

In another case, they tell you that you can’t drive the car off. They will have it towed for you. But they need to do an “inventory search” to look for valuables. Meanwhile, in reality, they are looking for drugs, weapons or illegal things.

Setting up a pre-text stop defense requires a lot of work by the attorney including:

  • investigating the officer’s background and training,
  • searching records for past tint warnings or citations and looking for searches,
  • pulling body camera recordings or dash camera records,
  • looking for rewards or incentives that the officer may have received for “getting drugs off the street” or “getting guns off the street,” and
  • pulling old police reports looking for patterns in defendants as well as time, dates and locations.

Additional recommended reading:

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PA DUI attorney Justin J. McShane is the President/CEO of The McShane Firm, LLC - Pennsylvania's top criminal law and DUI law firm. He is the highest rated DUI attorney in PA as rated by Justin McShane is a double Board certified attorney. He is the first and so far the only Pennsylvania attorney to achieve American Bar Association recognized board certification in DUI defense from the National College for DUI Defense, Inc. He is also a Board Certified Criminal Trial Advocate by the National Board of Trial Advocacy, a Pennsylvania Supreme Court Approved Agency.