Eye protection from UV radiation while driving

Ultraviolet radiation (UVR) is a form of radiation emitted by the sun. Unlike other forms of solar radiation, such as light and heat, you can’t see or feel UVR, even while driving.

UVR exposure is a risk because it can cause permanent damage to the skin and eyes. This could result in premature skin ageing, skin cancer and eye disorders. The effects of UVR are cumulative, so damage builds up even without burning. Additionally, like skin, the eyes never recover from excessive UVR exposure.

Exposing your eyes to too much UVR can also cause short-term complaints, such as:

  • mild irritation
  • excessive blinking
  • swelling
  • sensitivity to strong light
  • acute photo keratopathy (i.e. sunburn of the cornea).

Vehicle glass

Vehicle glass doesn’t need to be dark to provide UVR protection. In new vehicles, the level of protection against UVR has improved greatly in recent years. Nearly all new vehicles have windscreens made with laminated glass.

Laminated glass windscreens are made from a tough plastic layer bonded between two thin sheets of glass, which enables the windscreen to absorb 97% or more of UVR.

The plain glass used in vehicle side windows can usually absorb about 90% of UVR. The level of UVR protection varies between different vehicle brands.

Some factors that influence the UVR protective properties of glass include the:

  • glass type
  • glass colour
  • laminate between the glass and glass coating.

The UVR levels inside a vehicle can also vary, depending on:

  • whether the side windows are open or closed
  • the orientation of the vehicle in relation to the sun.

Get advice from the vehicle manufacturer about the actual UVR absorption levels that a vehicle provides.

Note that a vehicle occupant can also be exposed to high levels of UVR, particularly if the side windows are open. If you spend long periods in a vehicle when UVR levels are high, you should use sun protection. This will protect you both when you’re in the vehicle and when you leave it.

Protecting eyes with sunglasses

Eye protection factor (EPF) is a measure of the protection provided by sunglasses and other eyewear against UVR.

EPF is indicated by a number from 1 to 10. Sunglasses with an EPF rating of 9 or 10 provide the most protection against eye damage from UVR.

The most appropriate sunglasses have:

  • lenses that comply with Australian Standard (AS) 1067:2003 Sunglasses and fashion spectacles (PDF, 638KB)
  • a high EPF rating of 9 or 10 (EPF 10 exceeds the requirements of the Australian Standard)
  • lenses that reduce visible light to a comfortable level while allowing adequate vision
  • frames and lenses that fit closely to the face, such as a wraparound-style frame to minimise the UVR entering the eyes from the sides
  • comfortable frames that don’t move when the head is tilted forward
  • lenses that don’t distort colours.

Eye safety tips

  • You should avoid wearing sunglasses while driving at night.
  • Poor quality ‘fashion’ sunglasses may not provide the required level of eye protection against UVR.
  • Sunglasses with coloured lenses could reduce your ability to see road traffic signals. For example, green lenses absorb red light, making red traffic lights difficult to see.
  • Price isn’t necessarily a guide to the quality or effectiveness of sunglasses. Expensive fashion sunglasses may not offer the best protection.
  • Lens darkness isn’t necessarily a guide to UVR protection qualities. Extremely dark lenses may reduce vision and impair safe driving.

Polarised lenses

Sunglasses with polarised lenses have become more popular, as they provide superior control of reflected glare. However, these lenses could obstruct your view of the liquid crystal displays (LCDs) on the dashboards of some vehicles. You might have difficulty reading some digital gauges, such as a digital speedometer.

For more information on the health effects of solar UV radiation and tips for buying sun-safe sunglasses, visit the Australian Government’s Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency website.