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In focus: finding the perfect driving glasses

7 min reading time
Sheer driving pleasure is most enjoyable when you experience it with all your senses. But your eyes do most of the work, taking in 90 percent of the information you need. We explain what you should look for in the ideal pair of driving glasses, sunglasses and eyeglasses.

20 May 2020

See and be seen. Prof. Dr. Thomas Neuhann’s office is a busy place. That’s hardly surprising since 75 percent of people wear glasses or contact lenses. Dr. Neuhann has been a practicing eye surgeon for over 30 years. He is the founder and head doctor of the ALZ Eye Clinic in Munich, and one of the few German eye surgeons recognized internationally. He also knows the answers to the most important questions about driving with glasses – whether eyeglasses or sunglasses.

What are the perfect glasses for driving, and is there such a thing as night driving glasses? What do you need to bear in mind when buying sunglasses? Here are the answers to put you in the know:



When should you wear glasses for driving?

Test yourself. Are you no longer able to see a street sign 110 yards (100 meters) away? Congratulations! You need glasses. Initial signs of impaired vision include increased sensitivity to light, feelings of pressure or tension around the temples, and headaches after reading for a long while. An eye test will determine whether you’re nearsighted (myopia) or farsighted (hyperopia) and what eyeglasses you will need. “If your visual acuity is less than 20/40 in either eye, you should have eyeglasses for driving,” explains ophthalmologist Prof. Dr. Neuhann. State laws on vision requirements for driving vary greatly, from 20/40 to 20/100, so be sure to know the minimum for your state and have your eyes tested regularly – about every four years starting at age 20 and every year after age 60. Maybe it is time for driving glasses.


Are photochromic lenses OK to wear while driving?


In the 1960s, two chemists stumbled upon a formula that enabled them to create lenses that react to the invisible ultraviolet rays of the sun. “The disadvantage of photochromic lenses is that their level of darkness depends on the temperature. The glasses are darker when it’s colder than when it’s warmer. It takes some time for them to turn dark and then to clear back up. So if there is a sudden change in brightness while you’re driving, for example when you enter a tunnel, this is a big problem. They also have a low base tint to them so they are never completely clear,” explains Prof. Dr. Neuhann. This is why you should avoid wearing photochromic lenses while driving.


Are progressive lenses suitable for driving?


These glasses are practical. They combine several solutions to visual problems in one pair of eyeglasses. There is a seamless progression between the two lens powers for seeing up close and at a distance. “Progressive lenses are advantageous because you can see both near and far without having to have two pairs of glasses,” explains Prof. Dr. Neuhann. “The disadvantage, however, is that your peripheral vision can be slightly distorted, and will only be clearly focused when you look straight ahead. Most people adjust in just a short time. If you have no problems using them on a daily basis, then they are a good driving glasses.”

There are no special night glasses that actually work.
Prof. Dr. Thomas Neuhann
Prof. Dr. Thomas Neuhann



Are there special night glasses?

Sitting behind the wheel of a car at night is very hard work for your eyes. Your biological clock is telling your body it’s time to rest. Your eyes must constantly adapt to being in the dark with reduced visibility and changing lighting conditions, which inevitably leads to delayed reactions. Special night driving glasses with yellow lenses are being touted by various manufacturers, but from a scientific and medical perspective, their effectiveness is a matter of debate. Experts say that the lenses used in glasses for night driving are not capable of improving vision. So what does our specialist say? “No, there are no special night glasses that actually work,” replies Prof. Dr. Neuhann. “Clear, untinted lenses – not yellow lenses – are the best.”


What is night myopia?


Shortsightedness at night (night myopia) is a special form of shortsightedness which can sometimes affect even those with normal vision. During the day you are able to see clearly and sharply, but at night you have difficulty recognizing objects in the distance. “Most people are a little bit more shortsighted at night. Your optometrist can test you for this and find a pair of eyeglasses that you can wear while driving at night,” clarifies Prof. Dr. Neuhann.


Why are anti-glare glasses a must when driving?

Glass is clear. But despite this, people who wear glasses often see points of light that are not actually there. These dots of light arise because light sources from behind are reflected in the eyeglasses. For this reason it is extremely important to have anti-glare driving glasses, which Prof. Dr. Neuhann highly recommends. Steam is used to attach very thin layers of varying thicknesses of magnesium fluoride on both the front and the back of the eyeglasses. This way the light waves cancel one another out so there are no reflections. Especially when it’s wet or snowing or there’s blinding sunshine or headlights, the scattered light reflections are completely eliminated. But what happens when the anti-glare coating starts to wear off? “Anti-glare coatings cannot be replaced. Once they become scratched or worn, you will need to buy a new pair of eyeglasses,” notes Prof. Dr. Neuhann.


How dark should your sunglasses for driving be?

If you buy a pair of European sunglasses, you’ll find a number from 1 to 4 on the inside of the frame. This is the lens category denoting the level of sun glare reduction, which is not the same thing as UV protection. Glare reduction is achieved through the different tints of the lenses, from light to dark. The higher the number, the darker the filter and thus the higher the amount of light absorption. “The perfect glare protection for driving glasses will depend on your personal preference and what you feel comfortable with,” says Prof. Dr. Neuhann. Category 4 sunglasses with extremely dark filters, however, are not suited for driving.

Forget about buying cheap sunglasses that don’t provide enough UV protection.
Prof. Dr. Thomas Neuhann
Prof. Dr. Thomas Neuhann



What’s the biggest mistake I can make when buying sunglasses?

“Forget about buying cheap sunglasses that don’t provide enough UV protection,” advises Prof. Dr. Neuhann. “Sunglasses must always offer 100 percent protection.” You will pay for cheap sunglasses later. The dark tint means that your pupils don’t contract in the sunlight, and the damaging UV rays are not filtered out. This damages your retina and your eyes will literally sunburn.

You have to decide whether polarized night driving glasses are something you like or not.
Prof. Dr. Thomas Neuhann
Prof. Dr. Thomas Neuhann



Are polarized sunglasses safe for driving?

What about polarized sunglasses? The advantage is that polarized lenses reduce reflected light, such as on wet road surfaces, and provide sharper contrast. The disadvantage is that it’s very difficult to see what’s on any kind of screen. This is because LCD displays, such as navigation devices, also have polarized filters. The filtering function of the display and the screen overlap so that the screen looks black. “You have to decide whether polarized night driving glasses are something you like or not. I cannot make any specific recommendations,” says Prof. Dr. Neuhann.


Why are colored sunglasses not recommended for driving?


Is the traffic light red or green? Wearing colored glasses while driving could result in a skewed perception of lights and colors. For this reason, the best driving glasses for sunlight should have brown or grey lenses.


Are glasses with gradient lens shading better for driving?

Glasses with stronger light absorption at the top and less at the bottom have neither advantages nor disadvantages on the road. “Lens shading can sometimes be a subjective perception because at a distance there is some light protection while close up, there is no dimming. But there is no specific advantage to this,” clarifies Prof. Dr. Neuhann.


Is the design of driving sunglasses important?


There are clear recommendations for not only the lenses of the perfect driving glasses, but also for the design. If the arms of your glasses are too wide, they can affect your field of vision. A driver’s peripheral vision should never be limited. Being able to see “out of the corner of your eye” is extremely important. So Prof. Dr. Neuhann recommends that the temples of the glasses be thin. A simple design crafted with quality materials is always the best choice for driving.

BMW Lifestyle: sunglasses from BMW

Author: Nina Kleine-Vogelpoth

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