I-Team: Ticketed for tint
It's cool and sleek, keeping the sun out and your seats from heating up.
Tinted windows are an accessory to any car or truck. When you buy a car, you can add tinting to most windows or you may have no choice in the matter at all. The tint could already be in the pane, dyed in the glass by the car's manufacturer.
That's how Antonio Santana's 2005 Chrysler Pacifica came when he drove it off the lot from a Westport dealer. He thought everything was OK until the blue lights of a New Bedford police cruiser pulled him over.
"He said it isn't legal. I stated to him that it's factory. He told me it is still illegal," said Santana.
Santana was slapped with a $250 ticket. The officer tested his car's tint, and it failed.
"I don't understand because there's nothing I could do about it. I got it from the dealer like this. There's nothing aftermarket on those windows," Santana, of New Bedford, said.
Santana told the NBC 10 I-Team that he did not add anything to the windows, and that the car came from Chrysler that way.
"He should have never got that ticket, doesn't make sense at all, sorry," said State Road Auto car dealer Altino Borges, who sold Antonio his SUV.
The dealership gave Santana a letter to present to New Bedford District Court Judge Kevin Finnerty. It didn't help. He was still found responsible and fined $250 plus court costs.
"It doesn't make sense. First of all, before any car goes out we check them out, make sure everything is OK. On top of it, the man went for a sticker and he passed an inspection," Borges said.
Santana came to the NBC 10 I-Team for help. We checked with the registry.
"His car did pass a Massachusetts vehicle check on July 4, 2012, at an inspection station in New Bedford. Records indicate the vehicle also passed inspection in 2011, 2010, 2009. Motor vehicles pass if the tint is original factory tint," said Sara Lavoie, a spokeswoman for the Massachusetts Department of Transportation, the agency that oversees state registries.
The I-Team had the owner of a tinting company come out and check the glass on Santana's car. He didn't want to be on camera, but he said clearly the tinting came from the factory.
Tint laws differ from state to state. In Rhode Island, tint must allow 70 percent of the light inside. In Massachusetts, the law is less restrictive, allowing 35 percent of the light in.
Santana's window registered at 14 percent, technically illegal in Massachusetts. But again, these tinting regulations don't apply to factory glass if federal DOT insignias are stamped all over them, like the ones on Santana's SUV.
"It's crazy because now every time they see me, they're going to pull me over for the same thing and I'm going to have to pay $250 every time they feel like it," said Santana.
So, is Santana's problem a rare manufacturing glitch? Or are there other cars out on the road getting pulled over too? A quick search online shows he's not alone.
A post on Edmunds.com says, "I recently received a $250 window tint ticket. The officer said that all the back windows were too dark; however I never had them tinted, they were tinted by the factory ... What do I do?"
NBC 10 borrowed a meter and put window tint to the test, checking windows on all makes and models: Ford, Chevy, Nissan. We even found another Chrysler Pacifica like Santana's. The readings came in at 18 percent and 19 percent -- all technically illegal.
The I-Team checked an NBC 10 SUV. It too failed under the same standard. But like Santana's glass, the windows are factory installed. The law should not apply.
"That's factory. There's nothing I could do to it. I appealed it to a magistrate and I lost it, and I appealed it to a judge and I still lost the ticket," Santana said.
What happened here?
The interpretation of the law is apparently up for debate. The police officer was wrong giving Santana a ticket for factory windows. New Bedford Police Chief David Provencher told the I-Team that this traffic stop occurred late in the evening or early morning.
But why didn't Finnerty see the ticket involved an SUV with factory tint? There was no written decision by the judge, only a decision mailed to Santana.
NBC 10 called the Massachusetts court repeatedly for this story, and a spokeswoman said Santana could have appealed again for a fee, but missed his 10-day window.
Santana begrudgingly paid the fine because he didn't want to lose his license. The dealer reimbursed him.