Polarized lenses are effective at wiping out surface glare. This is a problem common to many outdoor activities such as boating, fishing, and driving. Fishermen swear by them because polarized lenses strip away the surface glare of water that blocks their view of fish. Motorists benefit from reduced road glare, reflected glare from cars, and dashboard reflections from the windshield. Polarized lenses also cut down on light scatter from haze.
Because of its versatility, perhaps polarized lenses should be included in all Nike prescription glasses. But this would be a mistake for a number of reasons:
Polarized lenses block out horizontal light waves, which are precisely the type of light that reflects off horizontal surfaces as glare. This is the reason for the incredible effectiveness of these lenses. Because they block out horizontal light, less light reaches your eyes, which isn’t good for seeing at night when you need all the light you can get. This light reduction also hinders you in other low light conditions such as dimly lit rooms. Some people do find indoor uses for polarized lenses, but it always comes at the expense of less light getting to the eyes. This dimming effect does work well for those with light-sensitive eyes.
Some drivers find that headlight glare off water is useful at night because it “lights up” water puddles that would otherwise be invisible. This allows drivers to avoid hydroplaning on unexpected puddles.
LCD instruments put out polarized light. If the light waves are horizontal, then polarized lenses will block the light and render the instrument readouts invisible. Sometimes certain positions of the person’s head will cause LCD readouts to appear blank. Some instrument manufacturers have resolved this problem while others have not. The problem may occur with some ATMs, GPS devices, and mobile devices.
While eye fatigue reduction is always good for pilots, they should use tints rather than polarized sunglasses for this. One problem for pilots is that polarized glasses can cause difficulty when reading digital displays in the cockpit (as discussed above).
Another problem is these glasses can interact with the laminated materials in some aircraft windshields, creating the appearance of striation patterns in the glass. Sunlight glare off the wings and windshields of planes alerts pilots of other approaching planes. In some weather conditions, this is the only way pilots can see other planes. Polarized glasses would render these planes invisible.
This depends on the type of skiing you do. For downhill skiers, polarized sunglasses block glare from ice patches, making them more difficult to see. Normally, the skier spots ice because they’re shiny (with glare). On the other hand, cross-country skiers usually move at slower speeds and therefore have more time to ascertain the snow surface. They mostly benefit from the superior glare reduction of polarized sunglasses. The same is true for snowshoers and hikers.
In summary, polarized lenses are meant for the outdoors (including driving) in bright lighting conditions. They’re less advantageous in dimly lit indoor situations and shouldn’t be used for night driving. They also cause problems when viewing some types of digital displays, and in situations where one relies on glare to quickly spot shiny things such as puddles at night. In addition, polarized lenses can interfere with clear vision through some helmet visors and aircraft windshields.
However, for the vast majority of daytime outdoor activities, polarized sunglasses improve comfort, vision, and safety. They are especially beneficial in situations when sunlight reflects off large shiny horizontal surfaces such as snow, water, wet pavement, and sand. Hunters, runners, bicyclists, and golfers also benefit from them.
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