Highway hypnosis – a trance-like condition where a person drives and later has no memory of it – is frequently experienced by almost all drivers. In this article you’ll read everything about this strange phenomenon, why it is the culprit of many accidents and what you can do to prevent it.

So, image this: your friend has invited you for dinner, but (s)he lives an hour away. After work you hit the highway leading to the house, a road you have frequently traveled before.

The road is unusually calm and there isn’t much traffic. You’re watching the road ahead of you while suddenly – before even realizing it – you’ve already reached the destination, but without having any recollection of how you got there.

You remember hitting the highway close to your office, but nothing after that. You’re 100% sure that you weren’t drowsy or asleep behind the wheel. So what happened? Why does it feel like the hour is completely erased from your memory?

Maybe you’ve experienced something similar, like driving through town, stopping at the red light et cetera, but realizing that you just can’t remember the last few minutes of the drive.

You wonder if you followed the speed limit, stopped at the signals, took turns correctly, but you actually have no idea. It’s like you’ve lost a piece of time.

This trance-like state – mostly experienced on a highway – is called Highway Hypnosis.

In this article, I’ll discuss what Highway Hypnosis is, how it differs from fatigued driving, why it happens, and how you can avoid it.

Experiencing highway hypnosis and how to prevent it.

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So, What exactly is Highway Hypnosis?

Highway Hypnosis, aka White Line Fever, is the name given to a trance-like condition where a person drives an automobile but later has no memory of it. It can be experienced in all kinds of ways; for many miles, a short distance or simply a brief moment.

It most likely occurs because of the monotonous roads combined with a stream of thoughts that make drivers less aware of their surroundings, thereby slowing down their brains and triggering an autopilot mode.

You could prepare a grocery list while driving, or so to speak. As the stream of consciousness is directed to making the list, the driver might experience partial or total amnesia, while driving as perfectly as always.

Is Highway Hypnosis the Same as Fatigued Driving?

The theory of highway hypnosis was first introduced as “Road Hypnosis” in an article in 1921, while G.W.Williams coined the word “Highway Hypnosis” in 1963.

In the 1950’s, some psychologists claimed that mysterious traffic crashes could be triggered by highway hypnosis.

Recent researches indicate, however, that there is a distinction between driving when tired and driving in the state of Highway Hypnosis.

A gray picture of a truck on a highway.

Highway Hypnosis Vs. Fatigued Driving

Highway Hypnosis is an example of the ‘Automaticity‘ phenomenon, the ability to do things without occupying the mind.

Basically, this means that people can perform everyday tasks, like driving, riding, or knitting, without actually thinking about them. It’s because when a skill is perfected, it can be done without concentration.

Fatigued Driving, however, is extremely dangerous because it increases our reaction time and decreases our coordination, memory and evaluation.

So, the main difference between Highway Hypnosis and Fatigued Driving is the automaticity a driver experiences.

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Fun Fact: Although “automatic” driving seems somewhat risky, automation can actually be superior to conscious driving for experienced or professional drivers.

This is termed as the ‘Centipede Effect‘ after the psychologist George Humphrey’s “Centipede Dilemma” or “Humphrey’s Law.”

Humphrey says, “No man skilled at a trade needs to give his constant attention to routine work. If he does, the job is likely to be spoiled.”

Likewise, in driving, thinking too hard about the act can aggravate the driving skills.

Driving in a long gray tunnel.

How to Know if You’re Experiencing Highway Hypnosis?

You can not really know when highway hypnosis takes over — at least, not before you get out of it.

If you notice that you’ve driven past your freeway exit, or you can’t recall anything from the last few miles, you’d probably underwent highway hypnosis.

However, there are some early symptoms of Highway Hypnosis
that you must watch out for.

  • Drowsiness;
  • Preoccupied mind;
  • Lack of focus or mental fog;
  • Wandering thoughts;
  • Lousy and dazed feeling;
  • Sluggish reaction time;
  • Heavy eyelid or rapid blinking;

Other early symptoms may include finding yourself steering away from your lane or driving on the rumble strip.

Another person in the car with you may find that you have a blank face or a misty-eyed stare.

A man behind the wheel close to falling asleep.

Read also: 7 Best Self Hypnosis Audio for Unlimited Wealth & Success

What Causes Highway Hypnosis?

Though highway hypnosis is more common in tired drivers, fatigue is not the only cause.

There are several other contributory factors that are discussed in the ensuing paragraphs.

1. Bland Roads and Mundane Scenery

Much of the relevant research on highway hypnosis indicates that monotony and blandness play a major role in triggering Highway Hypnosis.

Researchers, in 2003, experimented on experienced male drivers to study the effects of monotonous roads. The drivers were made to drive on two separate simulated roads for 40 minutes at a time.

Both roads were flat, but the first road had only one type of visual landscape: while the second featured various visual elements and landscapes.

The study found that drivers felt more fatigue on monotonous roads concluding that long stretch of monotonous roads is more liable to cause highway hypnosis.

It was also noted that the driver’s exhaustion peaked after around 20 minutes of driving. This suggests that Highway Hypnosis can occur very quickly on unchangeable roads and doesn’t require long driving times.

Note: Motorbike riders should also be conscious of white line fever. Although this occurs less frequently, the condition can also affect bikers on long trips.

Highway hypnosis caused by driving monotonous roads.

2. Oculomotor System and Brain’s Lack of Attention

The oculomotor system that regulates eye movements also plays a vital role in highway hypnosis.

When you drive down a familiar road that you know quite well or look at an unchanged scenery aside from the highway for a long time, your brain starts to rely less on retinal input or what you actually see.

Instead, your brain starts to count more on your mental forecast of what you’re going to see (extra-retinal feedback). The brain, thus, moves to a less alert mode and starts to pay less attention to the visual stimuli.

3. Drowsiness and Fatigue

The probability of highway hypnosis is high when you’re tired and drowsy.
The drowsiness is inversely proportional to the brain’s alertness, just like the blandness of the road.

In fact, the mind sees what you see but more slowly than normal, based on mental predictability and autopilot.

Fatigue will get worse, too, if you keep going. Longer travel time will raise the odds of getting highway hypnosis and make it much more likely for you to fall asleep.

A man yawning and slowly falling asleep behind the wheel.

How to Handle Highway Hypnosis?

Driving requires a great deal of responsibility. In most accidents, the legal proceedings can become quite difficult if you were the driver at fault.

In order to stay safe, you must resist the very things that increase the chances of crashing.

The guidelines below will help you to prevent highway hypnosis.

1. Break it Down – Plan Halts in Your Roadtrip

Our brain is more likely to switch to autopilot mode when we spend a longer duration on monotonous tasks.

Therefore, when you’re on a road trip, it is absolutely necessary to plan quick stops intermittently depending upon the signs of highway hypnosis that you’re experiencing.

While taking a break, get out of the vehicle, do some stretching, and shake yourself with a brisk walk or a short run. If you feel exhausted but need to stay on the road, a quick stop power nap will help you recover.

2. Great News for Coffee Lovers: Caffeine Works!

Caffeine may help boost your alert level when you feel sleepy while driving. Even if you aren’t drowsy, taking a drink or eating a snack will help break the drive’s monotony.

Note: Whatever you eat or drink while driving should be easy to handle and
mustn’t engage your both hands.

You can prevent highway hypnosis by drinking a cup of coffee.

3. Talk Yourself Out of Highway Hypnosis or Start Singing

If you slowly feel yourself entering highway hypnosis, it is recommended to chit chat with someone to keep your brain engaged. Calling a friend while driving is always a good idea, but make sure to use the speakers or gadgets to keep both hands free for the wheel.

If you know you’ve got a long journey ahead, consider making arrangements with someone ahead of time, so you can make sure they’re available for a call. It’s also not a bad idea to talk to yourself, though.

Another fun example is recalling your favorite poems and dialogues and practicing them out loud. Also, there is no better time to sing than while being on a long lonely drive.

Singing helps to prevent highway hypnosis

4. Proper preparation goes a long way..

If you know you’re going to drive for a longer distance, it is greatly advised to prepare for it beforehand. First and foremost; make sure you’re well-rested before you start your ride.

Take a nap before a ride that begins later in the day. And skip the medicines that include sedatives.

Some Everyday Tips and Tricks to Counter Highway Hypnosis

  • Rotate the volume to a discomforting high. Loud Music keeps the mind from getting idle.
  • Dismiss everything that might make you feel less attentive, such as soft, slow Music, or soothing voices.
  • Slide down the window and Get Some Air. The wind in your face will make you feel sharp.
  • Switch off the Cruise Control. Monitoring your speed will help avoid highway hypnosis by giving you something important to focus on.
  • Set your Driving Seat Back Straight. This will help you dig a healthy posture, besides resisting an overly relaxed state.
  • Driving during Daylight Hours helps avoid driving fatigue because people are usually more alert in well-lit conditions as they can better observe the surroundings.
  • If you’re uncomfortable, it’s harder to fall asleep or into a trance. A practical way of doing this is to make the interior of the car uncomfortably cold. You should Set the Air Conditioner to Arctic Setting during warm months.
  • The Music you love will draw you into a relaxed state, while the tunes you dislike will cause irritation. So, when Highway Hypnosis is setting in, it’s time to listen to the Music you Hate!

Is Hypnosis always dangerous?

Absolutely not. Although ‘highway hypnosis’ is notorious for being a dangerous culprit for accidents, regular (self) hypnosis is not.

In fact, you can use self-hypnosis audio’s for many psychological problems, such as addictions, negativity, phobias and anxieties.

The repetitive appliance of self-hypnosis often results into the disappearance of a specific complaint.

If you want to learn how to apply self-hypnosis, I recommend you to read the following article: Learn Self-Hypnosis Guide: 6 Easy Steps to Hypnotizing Yourself 

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Parting Shot

While the Automaticity and hypnosis may sound fascinating, Highway Hypnosis isn’t entirely safe. So it’s best to make sure not to enter this state of trance while on the highway.

If followed correctly, the tips mentioned above are likely to keep you safe from the dangers of highway hypnosis.

Stay alert & stay safe guys!

Key Takeaways: Highway Hypnosis

  • Highway hypnosis an Automaticity phenomenon that happens to a person while driving, when he continues to drive perfectly but has no recollection or realization of doing so.
  • Hypnosis on the Highway is also known as automated driving. It differs from fatigued driving because highway hypnosis, unlike fatigue driving, allows the driver to keep functioning on an automatic mode and doesn’t affect the response times and muscle memory.
  • Some common methods to avoid highway hypnosis include commuting during the daytime, drinking caffeine, and chatting with someone to keep the brain alert.

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