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How to choose sunglasses for driving

Happy couple driving in a car wearing sunglasses

When you’re driving and making quick decisions at high speeds, the last thing you need is to be blinded by the sun. Nobody knows this better than a race car driver. Josef Newgarden has won 13 IndyCar races and just scored his second championship in the NTT IndyCar Series.

Newgarden races on circuits ranging from natural terrain and street courses to short ovals and super speedways. 

“We’re racing wheel-to-wheel at speeds faster than 230 mph, and having clear vision is very important,” he says. “When you’re traveling more than a football field per second, you rely on sharp, focused vision.”

Style counts with sunglasses

Newgarden looks for a few things when he selects his sunglasses, and at the top of that list is how will he look in those shades?

“Obviously, I want them to fit my style, first and foremost,” he says. 

When he’s racing, Newgarden wears a helmet with its own built-in sun shield. But judging from his Instagram account, he wears sunglasses just about everywhere else, including for regular driving. 


Josef Newgarden

Like most high-profile race car drivers, he is often photographed with a cool pair of sunglasses on his handsome face. 

“We’re in the sun a lot, so sunglasses are a big piece of my race day attire,” Newgarden says. “I put them on the moment I leave the hotel and have them on all the way up until I put my helmet on.  As soon as I’m out of the car, they’re right back on my face again.”

As an Oakley sponsor, Newgarden has his pick of the latest models. “Honestly, I live in my Oakleys,” he says. 

“Oakley Latch is my favorite. It’s the style I wear the most,” Newgarden says. “The latch on the inside of the frame keeps me from dropping them when I’m running around at the track.”

Latch has a flexible rim designed to withstand extreme conditions. 

Newgarden is also a fan of Oakley Frogskin Lites, with a similar keyhole bridge but a half frame. 

He’s often in tortoiseshell frames with polarized Prizm lenses with a turquoise mirror coating. He’s also been spotted in Latches with clear frames. The strong brow-line frame and rounded lenses look great on his square face.

SEE RELATED: Why you should consider Oakley glasses

What to look for when buying sunglasses for driving

“Durability is also very important,” Newgarden says. “We’re on the road a lot, in and out of airports, at gritty racetracks, and my sunglasses can sometimes take a beating. Owning a pair that I know can withstand my lifestyle is key.”  

With driving, your position in relationship to the sun is not in your control so you need sunglasses designed with somewhat wider and taller lenses. A bit of curve in the lens and wrap in the frame is ideal. Look for maximum visual expanse and protection.

For longer trips, comfort is as important as optics. Maui Jim has some great sunglasses for driving. The rectangular nylon frames of their Peahi shades offer a snug wrap to keep out the glare as it moves across your windshield to the driver’s side window. 

Both frames and lenses are durable enough to stash in your car without worry. 

Maui Jim Makoa sunglasses have lightweight nylon frames, rubberized nose pads and temple tips, and super-thin glass lenses for crisp optics. 

Costa Aransas sunglasses are also perfect for long road trips, with their comfortable acetate frames and large square lenses that employ their 580 polarized technology to both block HEV blue light and filter out harsh yellow light. 

If you prefer metal rimmed aviators, Ray-Ban classic aviators with polarized lenses can work fine. Ray-Ban Scuderia Ferrari collection offers a wider wrapped lens in a lightweight full-bar carbon fiber frame.

What lenses are best for daytime driving?

Polarized bronze lenses are a solid choice, but any lens designed to offer clarity and contrast in bright or medium light will work. They will eliminate the intense glare of sun reflecting off asphalt, buildings and cars around you. 

Look for quality lenses that increase contrast and detail with enough curvature to cover your peripheral vision and reduce eye strain as the miles roll by.  

“A quality lens is something I look for in sunglasses, because I’m constantly outside,” Newgarden says. “The right lenses provide added contrast to help you pick out those little bits on the track that can slow you down, ultimately helping me perform at my best.”

Oakley Prizm lenses enhance depth and contrast and provide Newgarden clarity to help see details he normally wouldn’t pick up on while driving.  

Driving sunglasses from Maui Jim feature their PolarizedPlus2 lenses to eliminate the glare from hazardous driving conditions like wet pavement, snow and blinding sun. Good polarized sunglasses not only protect your eyes from harmful UV rays, but provide better color contrast, clarity and detail.

Like most professional drivers, Newgarden relies on less intense sports to unwind between races.

Among other things, he’s an ace pingpong player and hosts a celebrity pingpong tournament around the Indianapolis 500 to raise money for a children’s charity founded by the late Paul Newman. A good pair of shades also comes in handy when playing pingpong and fundraising.

What glasses work best for night driving?

“At many of our night races, we start before the sun sets. So, we race through the late hours in the day where there’s a ton of glare and the sun is shining directly into your eyes,” Newgarden says. 

“There are definitely moments where it feels a little uneasy racing wheel-to-wheel at those speeds with almost no vision,” Newgarden says.  “Thankfully, I haven’t had any emergency scenarios due to it, but it definitely picks up your heart rate a bit!”

While few of us having the sun setting in our eyes when we’re driving 200+ miles per hour, many of us are on highways at that hour. If you drive to work, you may find yourselves in that situation every day in rush-hour traffic, surrounded by competitive drivers who only think they’re Mario Andretti – or Josef Newgarden.

Driving when the sun is low in the sky and directly in your line of vision can be literally blinding. When there’s a curve in the road, that sun can keep popping up at unexpected spots, rendering a visor almost useless. This is when a good pair of polarized lenses can come in handy. 

Once the sun goes down, you’re dealing with a different problem: reduced visibility and glare from oncoming headlights.

As you get older, night driving becomes more of a liability as it becomes harder for your eyes to handle this stark contrast, for your pupils to readjust from dark to light. 

To make it easier, consider the yellow lenses used for night skiing and other sports that take place after dark. Yellow lenses are designed to block and reduce the harsh blue light of headlights and street lamps. If you wear eyeglasses, a yellow coating designed for this purpose can also help.

SEE RELATED: Night driving glasses: Help or hoax?

How important is eyewear when you’re driving? 

“Very important,” Newgarden says. “Driving at high speed is all about precision. When you’re driving cars on the edge of the limit, one small mistake can end the fun pretty quickly. It’s a high-risk game, but there’s no better feeling than putting together that perfectly precise lap.”

Driving, in general, can be a high-risk game and unobscured vision can help you navigate your own high-speed driving and react quickly to the moves of other drivers. Protect those eyes of yours and drive safe!

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