Indianapolis auto tinting treads legal lines

You might have seen Tyler Skaruppa driving around town, but you wouldn't know it. The windows on his 2007 Chevy Impala are so dark it's nearly impossible to see inside. He says he likes the added privacy and curb appeal. "If I want to pick my nose and I don't want anyone to see me, it gives me that luxury," Skaruppa jokes.

But the tint also makes the Castleton resident a target for law enforcement because it violates state law. Skaruppa knows he might eventually pay the price: He estimates he gets pulled over at least twice a year due to his windows. So far, he's only received warnings. "There's not a time when I see a cop driving behind me that I don't think they're going to pull me over," he says.

It's illegal in Indiana to drive a vehicle with windows that are tinted, covered or obscured in a way that "the occupants of the vehicle cannot be easily identified or recognized through that window from outside the vehicle." That vagueness gives police more leeway but also can cause consumer confusion. The law also says drivers can defend their window tint if they can prove it transmits at least 30 percent of light into the vehicle.

For many drivers, the benefit of tint is reduced interior heat and improved comfort and appearance. "I like the look of the tinted windows, and it cuts the glare and heat from the sun and gives you privacy," says Indianapolis member James Doak, who recently installed darker but legal window film on his 2009 Pontiac Vibe.

Member Larry Coffman tinted the windows on his 2000 Plymouth Voyager to protect his 1-year-old son. "It makes the car much more comfortable," he says.

But police say darkly tinted windows are dangerous. "It's a public safety issue for the officer who is pulling the vehicle over," says Sgt. Matthew Mount, spokesman for the Indianapolis Metro Police Department. "As an officer approaches a vehicle, it could be a wanted felon or someone who's previously resisted through force or killed an officer," Mount says. "We have no idea of what's going on inside [if the windows are too dark]."

As it's illegal to do so, most of the tint shops Angie's List Magazine spoke with say they refuse to tint a vehicle's windows beyond the legal limit, only making the allowed exceptions for medical reasons or show vehicles. Indiana's tint law also only applies to the front windshield, front driver and passenger door windows, and rear window. Rear passenger door windows and rear panel windows, like those on SUVs and vans, are exempt. Police agencies say they rarely cite tint shops, choosing instead to focus on motorists. The fine for installation of illegal tint can range up to $10,000.

Despite frequent requests for illegal tint, Dave Lemen, owner of highly rated Pro-Tint in Indianapolis, keeps his customers on the right side of the law.

Chris Brennan, owner of highly rated Tint King in Indianapolis, says he gets many requests for darker-than-legal tint. "We won't do an illegal tint - it's not legal to install anything beyond the legal limit, unless they have a medical exemption," he says. His persuasion usually includes economics. "It's $120 to $150 for a ticket that says they have to remove the film and it's $200 to remove it," he says. "If you factor in the original work, the ticket and the removal, you've got $500 wrapped up pretty quickly."

But some are willing to satisfy customer demands. Alan Swardson, owner of Indianapolis Window Tinting - a company not yet rated on Angie's List - estimates he tints 100 vehicles a month. "Very rarely is a vehicle done at the legal limits," he says. "[The law] does say we're not supposed to. Most people are pushing it just a tad."

He also tells his customers it's not legal. "The law says there has to be visibility into the vehicle, so it's kind of a gray area with the way it's written," he says.

Indiana State Police spokesman Sgt. Anthony Emery says he follows one rule. "If I'm driving, and I can't tell how many people are in the vehicle or if the driver's not easily identifiable, I'm going to enforce [the law]," he says.

The Marion County Court Clerk's Office processed 546 motorists' window tint citations in 2008 and 320 in 2007. Fines vary by jurisdiction, but in Marion County, if a driver admits the violation and corrects the problem, it's a $75 fine. If the driver fails to answer the charge or correct the violation within 60 days, the fine increases to $150. Drivers also can fight the ticket in court, but face fines of up to $500 if they lose.

The law doesn't address selling a car with illegal tint, but some dealers err on the side of caution. "I take it off. I don't want my customers having any issues," says Ron Simon, used-car manager for A-rated Tom O'Brien Chrysler in Greenwood.

For any vehicle with illegal tint, Emery says the operator is ultimately responsible. "If you're operating a motor vehicle, you're the captain of that ship - you're responsible," Emery says. "If it's illegal, we're going to take enforcement action."

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I was cited for this exact situation, where do I begin?

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