SALT LAKE CITY — Rep. Jordan Teuscher, R-South Jordan, says he learned of Utah’s window tinting law the hard way.
He was cruising through Utah some time ago — 2014, per state court records — in a car he had purchased in California when he was pulled over by an officer, who, during a traffic stop, began to inspect Teuscher’s windows.
Using a special meter to measure the light of the windows, the officer told Teuscher that the windows were 5% off the state’s maximum visible light transmission rate, and issued him a citation.
“As I went to find out what it would cost to remove the tint and put on what Utah tint was, it was like four times the cost of the ticket,” he recalled, to his colleagues in the Utah House of Representatives on Friday. “So, I just paid the ticket.”
While he didn’t have a similar incident again, it highlights a problem lawmakers found in Utah’s tinted windows law. The state law has, for years, called for lighter windows than its Western counterparts. That’s now one governor signature away from officially changing.
The Utah Legislature, on the last day of the legislative session, last Friday, passed a bill that allows automotive tint limits to be relaxed a bit, reducing the visible light transmission rate of a front side window from 43% to 35%. It also allows for a 5% tolerance to account for variables, meaning the owner of a car with a 30% visible light transmission rate wouldn’t get a ticket, either.
The level is now much closer to neighboring states — and window tinting advocates in Utah couldn’t be more excited.
“This change is good for small business,” said Clayton Stark, the owner of Summit Auto Lab in Park City and the director of the Utah Tint Association, in a news release Saturday. “Utah has about 140 tint shops across the state.”
While the change may seem small, getting a bill to make this adjustment through the Legislature was quite a journey.
Utah’s tinted window problem
Stark said he got interested in the law in a similar way as Teuscher. Speaking with others in the state’s car community, Stark said his journey began as he noticed members in the Utah car community kept running into “fix-it tickets” because of the tint on their windows. Based on how the law was written, all it took was one offense to end up with a ticket.
Utah’s limit has been a bit higher than anywhere else around the West, which caused some of these problems. Rep. Walt Brooks, R-St. George, the House sponsor of HB149, the limit ranges between 20% and 35% in the six closest states to Utah. It’s 35% in Idaho and Nevada, two of Utah’s neighbors.
This caused all sorts of issues for people, including Teuscher. It also caused issues for Utah used car dealers trying to get cars from auctions in nearby states because of the window tinting laws, said Rep. Melissa Garff Ballard, R-North Salt Lake. She said it’s “expensive” to bring in a car from another state and then change the window tinting.
Yet when Stark poked around about changing the law, he kept hearing the same thing from friends in the auto community.
“They told me people had tried and couldn’t get it done, and said I was wasting my time,” he recalled.
The Legislature’s track record wasn’t on Stark’s side. There were at least four similar bills from three different lawmakers proposed between 2016 and 2020. Some sought to knock the maximum visible light transmission rate to 35%, while others would have knocked the rate as low as 25%.
None of the bills ever saw the light of day, though, because they never made it out of any legislative committees. As such, neither the House nor the Senate even got a chance to vote on those proposals.
The bills struggled to receive any traction because there were concerns brought up by state law enforcement officials who believed windows would be too dark for officers to see into, Brooks explained before a vote on Friday. It posed potential safety issues.
A ‘good compromise’
But Stark eventually got ahold of Sen. Dan McCay, R-Riverton, and the two took a different approach. They contacted Utah Highway Patrol officials, who agreed to test different window tinting limits. They found, through those tests, that a change from 43% to 35% didn’t make much of a difference for officers.
Utah Highway Patrol Col. Michael Rapich even offered support to the bill when it was introduced in the House Transportation Committee on Feb. 28, calling it a “good compromise” between the two sides of the issue.
In the end, the tests really found a difference in temperature. Brooks said they found the change in visual light reduced heat by over 14%, which he said is a benefit in the summer.
With the support of law enforcement, there weren’t many lawmakers against the proposed change this time around.
“If it doesn’t affect the safety of the officers, if we can be in congruence with the other states around us, it really saves our citizens their time and money — and kind of gets government out of their lives,” Teuscher said. “I think this a great bill.”
The House passed it with a 68-3 vote on Friday after the Senate voted 20-6 in favor of it on Feb. 22. The change will go into effect on July 1 once signed by the governor.
Meanwhile, Stark is thrilled he was able to help change a law that seemed impossible to amend.
“Tint is popular for many reasons,” he said. “But the bottom line is that everyone can benefit from this change.”