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What Is Highway Hypnosis?

We all know you should never operate a vehicle when you’re drowsy. Sometimes the physical act of driving can be exhausting. Highway hypnosis, however, isn’t run-of-the-mill drowsiness.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that nearly 100,000 crashes and 700 deaths occur each year due to drowsy driving.

These facts should wake us all up to the importance of avoiding highway hypnosis and what you can do to be safe on the road.

Let’s get started!

What Is Highway Hypnosis?

Highway hypnosis also goes by the nickname “white line fever.” If you’ve ever “zoned out” while driving for an extended period, you’ve likely experienced this phenomenon.

This trance-like state allows the driver to respond correctly, safely, and how you would expect without recollection of doing so.

Crazy ride on the night by car in New york city

What Are the Warning Signs?

There are several warning signs that you may be experiencing highway hypnosis. These include sleepiness, loss of concentration, wandering thoughts, dull or dazed feelings, slower reaction times, and frequent blinking. 

While highway hypnosis can occur at any time, it’s’ more likely to happen when you’re tired and driving at night. You must know yourself and be alert for any warning signs that indicate you’re getting overly tired.

What Causes Highway Hypnosis?

Being tired is one of the largest culprits of highway hypnosis, but it’s not the only cause. Driving long, flat roads with little to look at can be rather monotonous. A 2003 Purdue University study discovered that road monotony could occur in as little as 20 minutes of driving. 

Another 2004 study also discovered our brains will often switch into a less-alert mode when we drive on largely unchanging roads. Our brings will begin to predict what we see instead of relying on our eyes to do the work. So if you’re planning to drive through an area that you know will be rather uneventful, it’s best to plan for how you’ll handle it.

Driving while you’re tired can significantly increase your chances of highway hypnosis. However, the blurring of the white lines and areas filled with seemingly endless trees can increase a driver’s tiredness. 

What Are the Dangers of Highway Hypnosis?

Not only can highway hypnosis cause you to miss your exit or turn, but it can be incredibly dangerous. Highway hypnosis can lead to crashes and potentially even fatalities. By driving drowsy, a driver puts themselves at risk and other drivers and passengers on the road.

Even if a driver doesn’t fall asleep, their reaction time is much slower during highway hypnosis. It will likely take a driver in this condition substantially longer to recognize their need to break.

This can result in overcorrecting or being unable to stop to avoid an obstacle. 

How Often Should You Take a Break to Avoid Highway Hypnosis?

Preventing highway hypnosis requires a proactive approach. If you wait until you start getting tired or feel the effects of the condition, it could be too late. Taking a break every 90 minutes during longer drives can be extremely helpful. Getting out to stretch your legs, use the restroom, and fill up on gas and coffee can help you avoid highway hypnosis.

You must know your limits. If you’re not capable of driving through the night, don’t try it. If you need to stop and take a nap, then find a safe place to do it. It’s not worth the risk to push yourself beyond your limits.

How Else Can You Prevent Highway Hypnosis?

There are a handful of ways you can prevent highway hypnosis during your adventures. Let’s take a look at what you can do to keep you and others safe during your adventures.

Get Plenty of Sleep Before a Long Drive

The key to a successful road trip starts the night before you hit the road. Getting a good night’s sleep the night before a long drive can help set you up for a successful trip. It’s never a good idea to start the trip when you’re already tired, especially if it will mean driving through the night.

It’s recommended that you get seven to eight hours of sleep the night on a typical night, but especially before hitting the road. Get all of your packing and things put into your vehicle the night before so you can have a relaxing morning before hitting the road.

Wake up in time to take a shower, have breakfast, and drink a cup of coffee. You’ll hit the road with energy and be ready to conquer your long drive.

Listen to Upbeat Music and Sing Along!

Just about anybody can be a rockstar when they’re tired and on a road trip. Hit play on your favorite playlist and crank it up to 11 as you count down the miles to your destination.

Listening to loud music is a great way to keep your brain stimulated and keep your energy levels up. You can not only work on hitting the high notes, but you can greatly reduce your chances of highway hypnosis.

Get Some Fresh Air

There’s not much better than a breath of fresh air. It can be helpful to pull over at a safe location and take a short walk. Do laps around the gas station or walk up and down the aisles of a convenience store. If you can’t find a place to go for a stroll, you can still get some fresh air.

Roll down a window or crack a window to let some fresh air into your vehicle. Depending on how fast you’re traveling, you’ll want to make sure you don’t have anything that’s going to fly around the cabin of your vehicle when you roll the windows down. 

Drink Caffeine and Eat a Snack

If you’re looking for an excuse to drink more caffeine and eat your favorite snacks, now you have one! Doing so can help you stay awake and be more attentive while driving.

It can also give you more energy and fend off highway hypnosis. So make sure you stock up on your favorite snacks and caffeinated beverages before hitting the road for your next road trip.

Maintain Good Posture

While it may be tempting to recline your seat, don’t do it. You want to maintain good posture, which means sitting upright. You want to be comfortable, but not too comfortable that you’ll be likely to doze off or fall into highway hypnosis. 

Don’t allow yourself to recline any further than you usually would. If you usually drive with your seat reclined, it may be a good idea to adjust your seat, so you’re not reclined at all.

If you’re uncomfortable, you’ll be less likely to find your eyes closing as you drift off to sleep.

Take Turns Driving 

If you’re driving with two or more adults, it can be helpful to alternate drivers. Passengers can take a nap and rest up while waiting for their turn to drive. It’s important to have a driving schedule to ensure the duties are split evenly and that everyone gets a chance to drive and rest.

It’s a good idea to look at your route and plan your drivers according to the route.

If any drivers are not confident enough to drive through major cities or other areas known for having traffic congestion.

Drive an Alternate Route

If you know a route will be extremely dark and rather mundane, then take a different route. This is especially true if the route is a route you take often. While you might joke that you can do the drive in your sleep, you don’t want to try it.

Taking an alternate route can help keep you alert as the new route is unfamiliar to you. It will require more focus and attention than a route you’ve driven dozens of times.

Stay Safe and Avoid Highway Hypnosis

Highway hypnosis is a real thing and can be incredibly dangerous. You should take it seriously and make sure you’re aware of your capabilities when driving for extended trips.

Know your limits and take breaks when you need them. Arriving late is always better than not arriving at all. What do you do to keep up your energy while driving on extended road trips?

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  1. Pat Mcafoos says:

    Love your web site. Always very informative. Thank you. Pat

  2. Karen says:

    This is a frightening experience that happened to me many years ago. I drove approximately 5 hrs after my husband woke me up saying he needed me to takeover driving because he was too tired. I remember the first couple of minutes then absolutely nothing until we woke up the next morning at our destination. We are lucky to be alive and to this day (over 30 years later), I refuse to drive when tired.

  3. M Bruce Parker says:

    I have been teaching car control to mortals for 34 years, including police, paramedics, and other mortals. I have been told that by teaching the skills of data collection, and practicing the skills of avoidance of bad things, that drivers stay awake better – presumably because their brains are more engaged in driving. There is some outcome data to support this.
    Bruce Parker MSF certified instructor

  4. […] experiencing highway hypnosis, drivers may notice that their reaction time slows down. This reduction in response time can be dangerous, as it increases the potential for accidents. A […]