Serengeti Sunglasses - Image Source: Serengeti Europe
Many drivers do not realise it, but some styles of sunglasses are unsuitable for wear while behind the wheel of a vehicle. Some sunglasses may not allow enough light to enter the eyes, impairing visibility, while others may have a certain lens colour which negatively impacts the spectrum, and contrast, of colours distinguishable for a driver.
This guide discusses these and all other factors involved in ensuring the driving sunglasses you choose will not increase your risk of causing a road accidents. It includes guidance on frame and lens styles, tint densities, coatings and safety markings.
When you’re driving it’s important to keep your peripheral vision clear and protected from the sun. Oversized frames, made famous by celebrities such as Victoria Beckham and Paris Hilton, can obstruct your peripheral vision making it harder to see hazards on the road, increasing the risk of accidents.
Frames with large lenses and thin arms, such as aviators, are good for maintaining your peripheral vision whilst providing protection from the sun. Wrap around styles are also good for providing sun protection from every angle without obstructing your vision.
It is important to pick an appropriate frame for your driving sunglasses not only for your safety, but also because in the event of an accident you could be penalised if your sunglasses are deemed to have contributed to the collision. Although there are no specific guidelines for sunglasses frames, we would strongly recommend you go for a style that will allow you to see clearly from all angles.
Lenses of different colours affect how much visible light is able to reach the eyes, how well a person can see certain colours, and the degree of visual contrast experienced as a result. As such, choosing the wrong coloured lenses can negatively impact how well a driver can see road signs and traffic lights, and spot potential hazards.
Scientific research indicates pink, blue and green lenses should generally NOT be worn while driving as they can make red lights indistinguishable. Sunglasses in these hues labelled as safe for driving are the exception – the intensity of the featured lens colour can make a significant difference safety-wise.
The best lenses for driving sunglasses are grey and brown (with polarisation) because they are colour-neutral, meaning they do not alter how colours appear when worn. Many sunglasses specifically designed for drivers also feature yellow and amber-toned lenses, which can help to enhance contrast and definition.
Find out more about our Lens Colours »
Whichever (safe!) colour lenses you opt for, tint density is another important consideration. Tint density is rated on a class scale of 0 (clear) to 4 (very dark), and is the most important factor for determining how much light is able to reach the wearer’s eyes. Two similar pairs of sunglasses with grey lenses, for example, won’t block the same level of light should they have different density ratings.
By law, all sunglasses need to be marked with their applicable density number. The chart below illustrates the best use for each level of tint density:
Class 0 (clear)
80% to 100% light transmission
Suitable for day or night time driving.
Class 1 (light)
43% to 80% light transmission
Suitable for day time driving use in low sunlight.
Class 2 (medium)
18% to 43% light transmission
Suitable for day time driving use in medium sunlight.
Class 3 (dark)
8% to 18% light transmission
Suitable for day time driving use in bright sunlight.
Class 4 (v. dark)
3% to 8% light transmission
Used in exceptionally bright conditions (high altitude) but not suitable for day or night time driving.
Here you can see that 3-8% light transmission sunglasses (class 4) should never be worn behind the wheel, while class 0 are only really useful when worn on overcast days, or for night driving. Driving while wearing sunglasses with an incorrect tint density can reduce concentration, or cause drowsiness, increasing the risk of road accidents.
While many people like to wear sunglasses with light sensitive – or 'photochromic' – lenses which see tint density change depending on the degree of UV light exposure, standard photochromic or Transitions lenses are not suitable for in car use. The presence of the windscreen can block up to 40% of UV light and delay the speed at which the lenses change colour, meaning drivers could end up driving with unsuitable shades on at any point (i.e. they could be too light or too dark).
However, Transitions Xtractive or Transitions Drivewear are specifically designed for use behind the windscreen and are safe for use when driving. These lenses are great if you drive in varying levels of sunlight, although they will not go completely clear indoors.
Learn more about Light Sensitive Lenses »
A graduated tint – that are a road-safe colour and have a suitable tint density rating – is often preferred for driving because it has a darker tint at the top of the lens than the bottom. This means you can still clearly see the dashboard whilst being protected from the sun. A graduated tint is most effective when the sun is high in the sky but less helpful when the sun is low on the horizon due to the change in tint density further down on the lens.
Polarised lenses are a good choice for drivers because they dramatically reduce glare from headlights and light reflecting off of wet surfaces on the road. This makes for a much more comfortable driving experience by reducing the strain on your eyes and providing UV protection. Polarised lenses can also be useful in foggy or hazy conditions as they can help improve contrast and sharpen details.
Learn more about Polarised Lenses »
Choosing sunglasses with specific lens coatings can help to ensure visual clarity while driving, as well as helping to improve the performance and longevity of your sunglasses.
When lenses are produced they are highly polished to give a smooth finish, however this means they reflect around 10% of the light that hits them. An anti-reflective coating dramatically reduces this meaning more light is able to be transmitted through the lens, improving visibility. Another benefit of anti-glare coating is that it repels water and grease, making it easier to keep your sunglasses clean and clear.
Some eyewear manufacturers include their own patented anti-glare coatings for their driving sunglasses, polarised or otherwise.
Scratch resistant coating helps extend the life of your sunglasses by helping to protect your lenses from damage. It’s easy to scratch lenses by getting them dirty or by knocking them on things, these scratches increase glare and can significantly impact the clarity of your vision.
At SelectSpecs, all of our tinted prescription lenses come with UV400, scratch-resistant and anti-glare coatings as standard.
Learn more about Lens Coatings »
When buying sunglasses you should look out for the ‘CE’ marking usually found on the inside of one of the arms. This means the lenses meet the European Standard BS EN 1836:2005 and therefore provide adequate protection from UV rays.
All sunglasses stocked by SelectSpecs carry the CE mark.
SelectSpecs offers a range of sunglasses suitable for driving as well as prescription ready sunglasses for perfect vision behind the wheel.
Brands such as Serengeti (championed by ex-Formula One pilot, Alain Prost) and Maui Jim are well known for their unique polarisation technology while the classic Ray-Ban Aviators were originally designed for pilots struggling with low visibility while flying.
Love a different label?
The majority of frames available from us can be expertly transformed into prescription driving sunglasses, and many of the before-mentioned lens coatings are offered completely free of charge during the checkout.