Last updated: April 2023
Check your blind spot. Don’t follow too closely. Check your tire pressure. Fix your tail light. Watch your sun exposure.
What? Watch your sun exposure?
Driving can be dangerous. But, with proper precaution, it can be a lot of fun. I grew up in Los Angeles and while sitting in traffic for hours really stinks, there is nothing like a drive up to Malibu or to the San Bernardino mountains. I literally grew up in the car. I had no idea that, as I was cruising Sunset Boulevard, I was actually in the spotlight and I don’t mean the bright lights of Hollywood. I was actually sitting directly in the sun or at least part of me was.
UV rays and car windows
Dr. Brian Boxer Wachler notes that drivers in America face a unique skin danger. They are exposed to dangerous UV rays on the left side of their bodies.1 According to studies conducted by Dr. Boxer Wachler on average the typical automobile windshield blocked out 95-98% of Ultra Violet A (UV-A) rays, BUT side door windows were far less protective. The percentage of UV-A rays blocked varied from 44% to 96%. Only four of the 29 cars had windows that blocked more than 90% of UV-A rays.
Closed or open, you aren't protected
He also noted that it did not matter the cost of the car. A BMW may not be better than a Dodge. Dr. Jayne Weiss (who also participated in the studies) surmised that windshields are more effective because they are made of laminated glass to prevent shattering while most car doors are usually made of tempered glass. “Don’t assume because you are in an automobile and the window is closed that you’re protected from UV light,” she told Reuters Health.2
How you can stay safe
Dr. Paul Nghiem, who heads the University of Washington Division of Dermatology added, "Some of the car windows in this study let in enough UV-A rays to affect skin health.”2 He went on to recommend to wearing long sleeve shirts and the use of broad-spectrum sunscreen even on cloudy days. Dr. Boxer Wachler gave a very practical (if not costly) solution as well, stating that people can also get clear UV filters added to their car windows to protect from the damaging rays.
From personal experience
Really? I wish I had known this 50 years ago. My 1988 melanoma was on my left forearm. I understand that all those sunny days with my left arm hanging out of the door while I was cruising put me in jeopardy, but even having the window up put me at risk? Who knew? I guess we know now. What about the moon roof or dare I say sunroof? But that is for another post. Now, I know that I when I am cruising Lake Erie or Niagara Falls in my CRV to protect my skin (in the car). And when I am driving in England, protect my right arm.
Use sun protection while driving
UV-rays are sneaky. They seem to be lurking everywhere. The best way I can deal with this is simply using sunscreen every day and covering up. That way, it won’t matter if I am walking along the beach in San Diego or sitting in the parking lot that IS the San Diego Freeway, I am doing my level best to protect my skin and my long term health.
Do you sunscreen in the fall?