By Michael K. Browne, Assistant Director – Office of Police Conduct Review
Drivers should understand how window tints draw unwanted police attention and cause unnecessary escalation of what would otherwise be a routine interaction. While some window tinting is legal, windows that are too dark or reflective violate Minnesota law. In particular, Minnesota Statute § 169.71(4)(a)(3) prohibits side and rear window tints that “obstruct or substantially reduce the driver’s clear view;” that have “a light transmittance of less than 50 percent;” or those with “a luminous reflectance of more than 20 percent.”
This constitutes an equipment violation and gives police authority to initiate a traffic stop. Officers carry a device that quickly measures light transmittance and luminous reflectance. Whenever officers observe an equipment violation, they may conduct a traffic stop and can continue to do so until the window tint is removed. Excessively tinted windows are an easy violation to spot, and hence, drivers may experience stops on a frequent basis.
Excessive window tints also intensify the traffic stop and can increase the stress involved. When officers cannot see into the vehicle, they do not know what dangers they may be approaching. They may, therefore, order the driver out to conduct a search. They may approach with guns drawn. Drivers may not believe the stop warrants such thorough precautionary measures and become uncooperative, causing friction in an already stressful encounter. Such a situation can quickly escalate out of control.
Consider the case of State v. Homstad, 2010 WL 346372 (Minn. Ct. App. Feb. 2, 2010), which began with a traffic stop for a window tint violation. In the early morning hours of New Year’s Day, Mr. Homstad was parked on a commercial street in Lakeville with his engine running. Officers patrolling the area attempted to see if anyone was in the vehicle, but the excessive window tint prevented them from doing so. As the car pulled away, the officers conducted a traffic stop based on the reasonable suspicion that the windows were excessively tinted in violation of state law. Mr. Homstad tried to step out of the vehicle to speak with the officers, and the ensuing interaction led to a physical altercation, Mr. Homstad’s detention, and multiple charges being filed.
Police may not have stopped his vehicle had his windows not been tinted. The window tint not only led to the stop but also to the officers heightened precautions. Ultimately, it was his efforts at anonymity that singled Mr. Homstad out—his conspicuous desire to remain inconspicuous.
While every American has a right to privacy, driving with excessively tinted windows is somewhat like driving while wearing a ski mask. You may not be doing anything wrong; you may simply wish to remain anonymous, but the act itself raises suspicions and tints perceptions. Besides, it’s illegal.
If you are currently driving with excessively tinted windows and are stopped by officers, consider rolling down your windows before they approach your vehicle. This will allow officers to see inside the car while approaching and may assuage some of their tension. However, they may still issue a citation if your window tints violate state law.
A special thank you to our Intern, William Mahrt, for his contribution to this article.