Skin cancer threat while driving

Air bags, collision sensors and anti-lock brakes have made automobiles safer, but how well does your vehicle protect you from getting skin cancer?

"In the United States, you're more likely to have cancers and pre-cancers on the left side of your body just from our time spent in the vehicles driving," said Dr. Matt Larson from the Skin Cancer Foundation.

Nicole Lucas, whose family has a history of skin cancer, had never given any thought to her UV exposure while driving with her car windows up. She assumed she was protected by the glass.

"Even an hour out there is kind of like sitting in your yard for an hour, but (it) don't feel like it because you're in the car," said Larson.


Jane Chao is a 3M Scientist and an expert on materials that block ultraviolet radiation.

With a special device, she was able to measure how much of the harmful rays come into an automobile through the windows and which windows allow in the most rays. 

On a Fox 9 News SUV, only about three percent of the UV rays were able to penetrate the windshield.

But a check of the driver's window revealed a surprising result, about 30 percent of the UV was able to pass through.

Doctors advise to limit possible skin damage people should try and keep their exposures as close to zero as possible.

"There's enough of that cumulative time that we occur just in our cars that make it more likely to get the skin cancers on the left," said Larson.

Is what we found typical?

The windshield of the Matel family's mini-van was blocking 97 person of the UV rays, similar to the news vehicle.

"That's pretty typical because the windshield has UV protection built into the safety glass," said Chao.

But the meter shows the side window was allowing more than 60 percent of the ultraviolet radiation to pass through.

That's twice the level of the Fox 9 vehicle.

In car after car, a clear pattern emerged. It didn’t matter the make or model, side windows typically, didn’t offer the same UV protection from the sun as windshields.


Tinting the side windows can work to reduce the danger from the sun. The films are made by a variety of companies, including 3M, and usually cost several hundred dollars to install.

In general, most glass used in sun roofs does have some tinting. According to an industry trade group, sunroof glass typically blocks about 90 percent of the UV rays.

Doctor Larson said he spends at least an hour a day on his commute to work. He uses car tint on his windows.

He's even asked employers of some of his skin cancer patients, who drive a lot for work, to add UV protection to their company vehicles.

Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the United States and the numbers have been on the rise over the last 30 years.

For more information about the Skin Cancer Foundation click here.