Surprising Health Risks of Driving

Health Writer
Medically Reviewed

We all know driving can be dangerous, but you might be surprised to learn that being in the driver's seat can increase your risk of skin cancer and cataracts, according to a study from JAMA Opthalmology published online in May 2016. The risk for both conditions increases significantly with exposure to ultraviolet A (UV-A) radiation from the sun. And the more you drive, the greater that exposure is.

Reports of increased rates of skin cancer on the left side of the face and higher rates of cataract formation in the left eye prompted the study. Researchers documented the protection from UV-A offered by windshields and driver’s side windows of 29 automobiles from 15 manufacturers.

Windshields, because of their laminated construction, consistently blocked 96 percent of the sun’s UV-A radiation. That’s the equivalent of wearing sunscreen with an SPF of about 50. Side windows offered significantly less protection. They blocked an average of 71 percent of the sun’s UV-A rays, the equivalent of an SPF 16 sunscreen. Unlike windshields, the level of side window protection varied greatly. It ranged from 44 percent to greater than 90 percent in just four of the 29 cars.

There’s no easy way to know how much UV-A protection the side window offers. But you can protect yourself from the damaging effects of the sun. Wear sunscreen, especially when driving long distances, and always wear sunglasses with adequate UV-A protection. You can also purchase a film that blocks UV-A to apply to the windows.