How To Avoid Highway Hypnosis While Driving

Written by Steven Matz on . Posted in , .

Highway hypnosis has existed since people first began driving motor vehicles. Researchers noticed in 1921 that drivers could safely operate their vehicles even when they appeared asleep with their eyes open. Yet, when drivers enter such a trance-like state, they increase the chance of a car accident. If you are the victim of such a crash, the sympathetic car accident lawyers at Matz Injury Law can help you deal with the resulting car insurance claim and more. Call us at 1-866-22Not33 to get started on your Michigan car accident claim today.

Blurred vision of a roadway

What is Highway Hypnosis?

Highway hypnosis (sometimes referred to as white line fever) is that trance-like state drivers often experience when on the road for an extended period. Due to the monotony of driving, the driver’s thoughts can begin to stray and give attention to something other than the road. Surprisingly, you can still conduct common driving activities subconsciously, such as using turn signals and changing lanes safely. In other words, your mind can zone out while you physically continue to steer the vehicle.

When highway hypnosis occurs, you often will have no memory of operating a motor vehicle during those times. Even the most experienced drivers can fall into this hypnotic state and become unaware of stopping at red lights or making turns. Highway hypnosis can last for seconds, a few minutes, or several miles before you realize you have been under its spell.

How is Highway Hypnosis Different Than Fatigue Driving?

Fatigued driving and highway hypnosis are two different things. Fatigued driving, often from not getting enough sleep, involves some level of cognitive impairment. The driver may experience a slow reaction time and be less aware of their surroundings, including other cars. This type of driving affects countless truck drivers and causes thousands of motor vehicle crashes every year, many with fatalities or severe injuries.

In contrast, drivers do not need to feel fatigued for highway hypnosis to happen. According to research in hypnotism, drivers experiencing highway hypnosis are in a hyper-focused mental state, which allows them to be more finely in tune with responses rooted in the subconscious. In other words, the driver conducts actions automatically, not intentionally, on those long drives.

What Causes Highway Hypnosis?

The main cause of highway hypnosis is monotony or boredom while driving. Essentially, people do not do well with boring, repetitive tasks, and driving through endless stretches of roads and trees can be unstimulating, causing them to slip into a trance-like state.

Another way of looking at highway hypnosis is by acknowledging how the brain physically collects and processes monotonous information. It all starts in the eyes, which relay information back to the brain. At this point, the brain creates a visual map of the driver’s surroundings, and you run on what is often thought of as auto-pilot if the road is familiar or overly monotonous.

For this so-called auto-piloting, your brain begins to predict what will occur, leaving your mind to wander to other things. This result can be even more dangerous if you use cruise control which allows you to disengage from using the pedal to maintain speed.

Often, fatigued driving and highway hypnosis can occur together. Traveling on familiar or boring roadways while tired increases the chances of sleepiness, drowsy driving, and crossing into a hypnotic state.

Spot Highway Hypnosis Before It is Too Late

If upon pulling into a parking lot or missing your exit, you can not remember how you spent the last several minutes or miles, highway hypnosis is likely to blame. Learn how to spot the signs of highway hypnosis before it is too late and threatens your safety on the roadway.

Warning signs or symptoms can include:

  • Wandering thoughts or daydreaming when you are behind the wheel of your vehicle
  • Slow reaction time, such as when reacting to the slowing of the car in front of you or a pedestrian entering a crosswalk
  • Feeling drowsy, sleepy, or foggy as you drive.
  • Loss of concentration
  • Feeling dull or dazed
  • Drifting into another lane or onto the shoulder

Highway hypnosis also involves a glassy-eyed stare by the driver or a blank facial expression. If you notice this in someone else driving your car, start a conversation or ask to make a quick stop.

7 Tips for How to Avoid Highway Hypnosis

If you feel you are experiencing highway hypnosis while you drive, here are seven tips to help you avoid it when sitting behind the wheel.

1. Avoid Night Driving

Avoid driving at night whenever possible, especially during your regular sleeping hours. Nighttime often involves less traffic, and you can fall into a lull as you drive along a monotonous road. In addition, if you are on the road during those regular sleeping hours, parts of your brain may not adequately communicate with each other, putting you in a state of automaticity. This state allows you to perform some driving activities unconsciously, but it is still unsafe.

2. Entertain Yourself

To keep your brain alert while driving and prevent highway hypnosis, find ways to entertain yourself. Whether it is by telling jokes in the car with your friends, listening to your favorite music, singing karaoke, or listening to a funny podcast, entertainment can often help offset highway hypnosis by keeping you engaged with your surroundings.

3. Keep Your Eyes Engaged and Active

Keep your eyes moving as much as possible, even if it requires you to read every road sign. Driving on a monotonous stretch of road can be challenging, and you can soon find yourself staring straight ahead with no engagement with your surroundings. Make a conscious choice to see what is in front and to the sides of your vehicle. Read all the road signs you come upon, whether they are telling you the speed limit, exit number, or other information. Also, make it a habit to check your rearview and side mirrors often. By doing so, you will remain alert and less likely to have a motor vehicle accident due to falling into the trance-like state of highway hypnosis.

4. Take Frequent Breaks

Even if you are trying to keep to a schedule on a long road trip, take frequent breaks as you drive to avoid falling prey to highway hypnosis. Such breaks can include stopping to use the restroom, stretching your legs, walking your dog, or buying snacks or drinks such as coffee. Try to time your breaks for at least every two hours or so.

5. Lower the Interior Temperature

Becoming overly comfortable in warm temperatures is common and can lessen alertness as you drive. Instead, lower the car’s interior temperature by running the air conditioning constantly or opening windows to let in the cool, fresh air.

6. Maintain Good Posture While Driving

Pay attention to how you sit while driving. Hunching over the steering wheel or reclining your seat too far can relax you more than necessary and even cause you to experience drowsiness. Focus on sitting up and keeping your back supported to enhance the body’s blood flow which can assist you in staying more alert as you drive.

7. Remember Self-Care

One of the overall ways to keep yourself safe behind the wheel is to prioritize self-care. Drink water, moderate caffeine consumption, and eat healthy snacks to help you avoid slipping into a trance while driving. Staying hydrated with water can keep your energy levels even and boost brain functioning simultaneously. As for caffeine, boosts in energy or alertness only last for so long, then you may experience a drop once it wears off. Find the right level of caffeine consumption when driving long distances to avoid such a roller-coaster. Healthy snacks will also help you avoid the sugar highs and lows that can interfere with driving alertness.

Protect Yourself from Careless Drivers

Michigan drivers are responsible for operating their vehicles with care. Driving on the human equivalent of autopilot violates this duty of care and can lead to accidents. You deserve compensation when this happens.

If you are the victim of a Michigan car accident, Matz Injury Law can help you collect the evidence you need to prove negligence. We drive all over Michigan, helping car accident victims like you, and have experience with all kinds of cases. We can help you file paperwork, deal with auto insurance companies, and do whatever it takes to get compensation for your injuries. Call our Michigan law office today at 1-866-22Not33 or use our online contact form to learn more or schedule a free consultation with an experienced attorney.

Written By Steven Matz

Steven J. Matz is a founding shareholder of Matz Injury Law. The firm’s concentration is on personal injury litigation, with an emphasis on traumatic brain injury. Mr. Matz earned a Bachelor of Arts degree with high distinction and highest honors in 1974 from the University of Michigan and a Juris Doctor degree in 1977 from The George Washington University National Law Center. Mr. Matz lectures and publishes in a number of areas, including ethics, marketing, trial tactics, and head injury. Mr. Matz has served on the Michigan Association for Justice Executive Board and currently serves the Michigan Attorney Discipline Board as a Hearing Panel Chairman and Master. He is also a member of the State Bar Committee for Character and Fitness.
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