The Eyes Have It

A lot of people don sunglasses to look “cool.” But for many truck drivers, proper eye protection is a tool they wouldn’t leave home without.

Drivers can use eye-protection technology to guard themselves against cataracts, retinal burning and eyestrain by making judicious choices about their shades.
To protect the eyes properly, sunglasses should filter ultraviolet light – both UV-A and UV-B – at 100 percent.

But that’s not all they can do. Some experts claim proper shades and glare-reduction windshields can improve the personalities of clinically fatigued and depressed professional drivers. That, clearly, would make you not only healthier, but also safer behind the wheel.

Experts agree, and experts disagree. It seems that when it comes to shades there are some facts to consider before you buy, but personal preference may be the biggest factor. Especially since you are likely to keep wearing shades you are comfortable with.

Some of the most effective shades to help keep your eyes healthy and comfortable while you drive are photochromic sunglasses that darken in response to intensified light. This eyewear will not darken in a vehicle because the windshield filters UV light. Now a new development called SPD, or suspended particle device technology, promises to eradicate this problem and also allow lenses to react much faster to changes in light.

Some mirrored shades may appeal to drivers because the reflective coating is applied as a gradient, meaning it changes colors. According to Jeff Tyson, author of “How Sunglasses Work,” “this provides additional protection from light coming from above while allowing more light to come in from below or straight ahead.” A driver can see the dash more easily while his eyes are shielded from the direct rays of the sun coming through the windshield.

SPD windows that allow for the control of light and glare in windshields, and sun visors that can be manually tuned to neutralize glare are also on the horizon. Mercedes Benz will sport this type technology on automotive products soon, according to Research Frontiers. Sun visors could then be used to reduce the glare of headlights when sunglasses are useless.

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Tinted lenses
Tom Menzell, an owner-operator from Mequon, Wis., keeps three pairs of sunglasses on the dash of his truck. All are Ray-Ban brand, but they have different tinted lenses.

According to Menzell, the yellow lenses, “make things jump out. They give more contrast, especially on hazy days.” He also carries a brown-tinted pair that changes tint as light conditions change and a very dark pair for looking up into direct sunlight when he is operating the crane attached to his flatbed. “Sunglasses are tools,” Menzell said. “The dark pair is the only pair that work looking up into direct sunlight.”

The color tint of lenses is important to many drivers whether they are driving in the bright sunlight of the desert Southwest or along the ice roads just south of the Arctic Circle.

To protect against snow blindness, drivers hauling equipment and supplies to diamond and gold mines in Canada’s Northwest Territories are particular about their shades. The overwhelming choice on the ice road, where their path is only distinguished by mounded snow at the road’s edge, is yellow shades. According to drivers there, yellow is best at cutting the glare from the snow.

“Different tints provide better contrast between certain colors,” according to a spokesperson at Bayz Sunglasses in Havre de Grace, Md. “Amber provides more contrast between green, white, and gray, grass, road markings, and pavement. Shooters like them because targets are white. They are also very useful for people who are on the water a lot.”

Besides yellow and amber, green and purple tints are common. According to Jeff Tyson at, green tints offer the highest contrast and most visual acuity of any tint. Purple tints give the best contrast against green or blue background.

David Kosar, owner of Riteway out of Dallas, wears a brand of shades called Blue Blockers. “I wear Blue Blockers because they brighten everything up,” he says. Blue Blockers are a patented sunglass, actually yellow in color, which increase contrast and clarity, especially in white conditions like snow.

Plastic vs. glass
Menzell is particular when it comes to eyewear and eye care. The shades he wants usually do not come off the shelf in a convenience store or pharmacy. “I go to mom-and-pop sporting goods stores that still stock old Ray-Bans with USA stamped on them. The newer glasses don’t have any indication where they were made. The USAs are much better quality.” Menzell says he likes the superior optical quality of the real glass he finds in Ray-Bans.

There are, however, many sunglass wearers who prefer plastic lenses. Polycarbonate, or plastic, lenses may be chosen for weight savings. And these lenses can have a polarizing coating to reduce glare.

Glass can be up to three times as heavy as plastic, it can break, and some wearers report more distortion when going from plastic to glass lenses, says at least one expert. Those who are not sensitive to the weight of eyewear will be glad to know that glass is much harder to scratch than polycarbonate lenses.

Stylishly practical
Weight and color are only two things to consider when you are looking for shades that protect and enhance your vision. The variety of sunglasses available means you can find the style you want without sacrificing the visual benefits of quality lenses.

For example, Tom Mattfield, who turns the West Coast out of Minnesota regularly, likes wraps. “I wear wraps because I don’t like light coming in from the sides,” he says. The wrapped look also reduces wind exposure.

While the wrap-around design offers added protection, the curvature of the lens makes the creation of optically correct lenses more difficult. According to, “Precise contouring provides the best possible equalization between each point along the arc of a lens and the wearer’s eyes. This minimizes distortion at all angles of vision.”

Oakley shades use a technology it developed, called Polaric Ellipsoid geometry, to achieve this effect. Wraps also have other advantages for certain applications. Drivers who find themselves working outside, unloading for example, may like wraps from Oakley called Frogskins that have ear and nose pieces which increase their grip as they become wet with perspiration.

Technology has allowed the creation of frames that are not only light and extremely strong, but fit well under normal as well as adverse conditions.

Chris Wilde at remarks that brands like “Maui Jims and Oakleys are very popular among drivers. The Maui Jims have polarizing coating on both the front and rear of the lens to reduce glare very effectively. Nearly all sunglasses have protection against ultraviolet light, which can damage the retina. Polarizing lenses cost somewhere in the range of $50 more. Having UV protection does not incur any additional cost.” Whether you choose glass or polycarbonate lenses, UV protection, polarization and your prescription are available.

According Tyson, a high percentage of glare comes from horizontal surfaces like water or a lonely stretch of highway. The light assumes a horizontal angle as it strikes the eye. Polarized lenses allow only vertically polarized light to enter the eye, reducing glare. Tyson notes that it is advisable to test shades advertising they are polarized by tilting the head from side to side to see if glare comes and goes as the angle of vision changes.

Professional drivers must consider sunglasses a tool. Their glare-reduction abilities alone provide a measure of safety.

Like cowboy hats, shades may appear to be affectations to some. But like the proverbial Stetson, which keeps rain from dripping down the neck and shields the face from sun, sunglasses perform a vital function.

Enhance Your Glance

1. Sunglasses are tools. They do more than make you look brutally handsome. Choose your eyewear carefully.

2. Snow can reflect a great deal of light. It can blind a driver as easily as looking into the sun. Try those yellow or amber shades for driving on bright winter days.

3. Shades come in many varieties. Consider having more than one pair to protect your eyes in varying light conditions.

4. Consider spending more to get polarizing lenses. They cut glare from flat surfaces like highways very effectively.

5. If you like the photochromic lenses, be aware they do not work in vehicles unless the windshield has a light valve or other technology that allows uv light to enter the cab. Mirrored shades will cut light from above and give you more ability to see straight ahead.

6. Sunglasses can get heavy during a long day’s drive. If you are sensitive to weight you might want to try polycarbonate lenses.

7. Be cool.