Commission to review century-old state law on windshields, window tinting

By: - November 17, 2023 7:01 am

The law used to cite drivers for tinted windows dates to 1921 — before window tinting existed. It needs updating, the New Jersey Law Revision Commission says. (Spencer Platt | Getty Images)

In the debate over unreasonable car stops, tinted windshields are a lightning rod.

Some say they’re an excuse for racist cops to stop drivers of color and towns to profit by ticketing motorists for violating the state’s windshield law. Police officers complain they make it tough to see what a car’s occupants are up to and can block a driver’s view if they’re too dark.

Now, the New Jersey Law Revision Commission will examine the issue, with an eye on tweaking a century-old state law that has prompted court challenges and resulted in tens of thousands of citations each year.

The commission, which regularly reviews statutes to make sure they’re clear, agreed during its monthly meeting Thursday to research how other states regulate window tinting and recommend how New Jersey legislators should clarify the law here, as the state Supreme Court suggested they should in a 2022 ruling. In that case, a man successfully challenged his gun conviction on charges Trenton police filed after stopping him for a tinted rear windshield.

“The rear window statute prohibits the operation of motor vehicles with non-transparent material on the windshield or on the side windows,” said attorney Christopher Camaj, a commission volunteer. “Today, that statute serves as a basis for traffic stops and citations related to tinted windows. The statute itself, however, was enacted in 1921, last amended in 1937, both of which predate window tints by several decades.”

Police statewide issued 45,495 citations under the law last year, and another 43,624 through October of this year, according to the New Jersey Administrative Office of the Courts. Bergen County drivers got hit with the most, with almost 11,400 citations over the past two years, while Essex and Passaic counties followed, with almost 8,000 each, the courts’ data shows.

Commission members welcomed the law’s review.

Edward Hartnett is a professor at Seton Hall University School of Law, which filed a supporting brief in the Trenton case.

“What lots of other states do is they actually have a sort of measurement, a numerical account of what’s permissible and what and what isn’t,” Hartnett said.

With no specific level of window tinting defined, he added, there’s “not a really easy standard, either to be applied in litigation or to be applied on the road, or certainly not to be applied at least mechanically and easily by the shops who are doing this or by people who want to comply with the law.”

Commission member Bernard Bell, a Rutgers Law School professor and constitutional law expert, agreed clarity is needed.

“The use, and perhaps overuse, of traffic stops is a definite issue,” Bell said.

In other business, commission members also agreed to examine ambiguities in other state laws to determine if they need clarifying, including:

  • The state’s expungement law, and whether it also should apply to charges for violations of local ordinances.
  • The New Jersey First Act, which requires people in state and local government to live in state, and whether it should apply to unpaid volunteers like university trustees.


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Dana DiFilippo
Dana DiFilippo

Dana DiFilippo comes to the New Jersey Monitor from WHYY, Philadelphia’s NPR station, and the Philadelphia Daily News, a paper known for exposing corruption and holding public officials accountable. Prior to that, she worked at newspapers in Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, and suburban Philadelphia and has freelanced for various local and national magazines, newspapers and websites. She lives in Central Jersey with her husband, a photojournalist, and their two children.