WTF: Are Tinted Car Windows Really Illegal in Vermont? | WTF | Seven Days | Vermont's Independent Voice

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WTF: Are Tinted Car Windows Really Illegal in Vermont?


Published September 24, 2014 at 10:00 a.m.

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As of October 1, it will be illegal to operate a handheld phone while driving in Vermont. And if you're thinking about tinting your car windows so you can chat, text or surf the web while sitting at a red light, you're out of luck. In Vermont, tinted driver and front-passenger windows are illegal — as are tinted license plate covers, taillights and headlights.

The Vermont Department of Motor Vehicles has prohibited front-window tinting since 1971. It's primarily for driver visibility, says Drew Bloom, a captain at the DMV. "Vermont is not a super sunny state," he notes. "It's also an issue for law enforcement in the state," Bloom says. "Officers want to feel safe walking up to the vehicle." Fines for violations can range from $47 to $1,197.

So how can you legally tint your ride in Vermont?

Don't expect Xzibit from "Pimp My Ride" to come outfit your whip like it's 2004. But you could head over to Tint My Ride in Essex Junction. The shop, which specializes in personal automotive tinting services, has tinted more than 10,000 cars since opening in 2005, says owner Phil Reynolds.

It appears that the Vermont tinting ban isn't reducing the shop's sales.

Reynolds says they'll perform front-window tinting for customers with cars registered out of state. "We have customers from all over because of St. Mike's College," Reynolds explains. "We get kids from Massachusetts, Maine or New Hampshire. So we see a lot of inconsistencies where a lot of other states allow a light tint." And, though its illegality is clearly stated on signs throughout the store and printed on every receipt, Tint My Ride will do the same for a Vermont car. That driver may never get a ticket, but, according to DMV regulations, the car will not pass inspection.

There is a caveat: tinting for medical reasons. "You can get a [light] tint permit if you are sensitive to the sun," says Reynolds. An exemption from the law may be granted if an applicant provides a letter from a certified physician or optometrist stating that being shielded from the sun is a medical necessity.

For skin protection, there is also a clear option: "We are seeing studies that show cancer [on] the left side of the body, and we can do a clear film that protects 99 percent against UV rays." That kind of clear-tint application would pass inspection and would not require a permit as the light tint would, Reynolds notes.

Cars aren't the only thing that Tint My Ride services: the windows of homes, businesses, boats, snowmobiles, RVs or motorcycles can get the tint treatment as well. Its website even includes a menacing tractor with blackened windows. The company also offers gift certificates, because nothing says love like — a darkened window?

Reynolds observes that Vermont customers are typically looking to tint their cars' windows for different reasons than decades ago. "Back in the '80s, it was for muscle cars, like a Camaro or a Mustang," he says. "Now it's like Subarus, Audis, BMWs. It's the all-wheel, all-season car. I'd say probably the No. 1 car we do is Subaru." And what is one major function of the ubiquitous Subaru in the Green Mountain State? Lugging gear such as snowboards, skis and bikes, of course. With that kind of expensive equipment, Reynolds explains, comes the need to protect it from theft.

"Tinting has a bad rep because you think of the drug dealer getting his car tinted. But up here," he notes, "if you have your snowboard in the back [of the car] and you don't have tint, well, maybe you don't have a snowboard when you come back to the car."

Beyond security reasons, turns out tinting can provide added safety in the event of an accident. Certain kinds of tint can strengthen glass and reduce the amount of shards if it breaks. This protective feature also comes in a non-tinted version, and can be used on a variety of vehicles: Reynolds and his team recently outfitted the Essex Junction school system's vehicles with a clear window film to reinforce the glass in the event of a shooting. Yikes.

By the way, tints are not like tattoos. If you have a change of heart and want to revert to a tint-free lifestyle, Tint My Ride will remove it for a fee. Reynolds says the most common reason for tint removal is when people move, like to Vermont, and find that their tinted car windows won't pass inspection.

The state ban isn't leaving Reynolds and his team in the shadows; there's still enough interest in tinting to keep his business running. "I've tinted generations of people's cars," he says with a chuckle, "because they get it on one car, and then they sell or trade it, and they keep wanting it."

If tinting is too extreme for your tastes, you can always personalize your ride with a bumper sticker — or 10. As long as they aren't on the windows, it's totally legal.

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