A growing number of angry motorists say the City of Chicago is unfairly ticketing cars with tinted windows, and they suspect money is the motive.
Illinois last fall joined 38 other states with a new law that allowed a specified level of tint in front and passenger-side car windows. But the evidence that convinced those 39 state legislatures was apparently not enough for Chicago, which is relying on the concept of Home Rule to enforce its own ordinance outlawing tinted front windows.
Shortly after the Illinois law took effect, the city's fine for having tint increased 10-fold: from $25 in 2008 to $250 in 2009.
"It's not like suburban people, who want this tinting for EPA needs and skin cancers issues -- they can't just take it off when they come in to the city," she said. "So there are folks who have already gotten tinting on their windows, who came in to the city, had dinner in the city, and walked out with a $250 ticket."
Dave Krause, a professional tinter who worked with Bassi on trying to convince law enforcement on the wisdom of allowing some tint in car windows in Illinois, says Illinois State Police embraced the concept after one demonstration.
"There are a lot of reasons to protect the interior of your vehicle: for heat protection and a medical issue, to cut out UV rays, protect yourself from skin cancer," he explained.
Driver Mike Twedell said he's been hit three times on two of his cars; a $750 ding that leaves him suspicious that the city is desperate for revenue and considers tinted windows an easy target.
The Chicago Police Department disputes the notion the fines are just a revenue-enhancer for the city.
In a statement, the department said that tinted windows "pose a real safety risk for officers and the general public. An officer needs to be able to see inside a vehicle when conducting a traffic stop."
Still, the numbers are compelling:
When tint violations cost $25, the city brought in $736,000 in related fines. When fines jumped to $250 a pop, the city reaped $2.6 million in the same category.
Bassi calls the fines "outrageous," and says $250 is the most-expensive ticket allowed in the city.
Home rule does give a municipality broad power to enact its own laws, but can be taken too far.
Defense attorney Thomas Glasgow said he believes the fight over tinted windows is one where the city has crossed a line.
"It has no merit and it is unconstitutional because the uniform traffic code, by its own terms, is to be uniformly applied throughout the state. There are not to be variances, in various regions," he said.
Most of the drivers interviewed by NBC Chicago that appealed their tickets eventually lost their cases. Legal experts say the city probably will not back off the heavy ticket fine unless ordered to do so by a judge.
Cars registered in other cities and even other states could get hit with the ticket. The police department admits that none of its officers are equipped with tint meters. Instead, it's up to an officer's discretion when a ticket is appropriate.
Police say they will not ticket vehicles with factory-installed tint on back windows, commonly found on SUVs and minivans.
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