What is highway hypnosis?

Highway hypnosis is the act of driving while in a dull or trance-like state that can lead to drowsy driving and forgetfulness. Highway hypnosis is fairly common, and it can be caused by fatigue and sleepiness, monotonous roads, and inattentiveness. You can prevent it by getting enough sleep, avoiding heavy meals, listening to music, etc.

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Tonya Sisler has a Bachelor’s Degree from the University of South Carolina in Journalism and has worked for 15+ years in management. She has also completed a proofreading certification and is currently a professional writer.

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Brad Larson has been in the insurance industry for more than a dozen years. He started out as a claims adjuster for a national carrier. He has since switched to the agency side of the business. Brad is licensed in all P&C lines.

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Reviewed by Brad Larsen
Licensed Auto Insurance Agent Brad Larsen

UPDATED: Apr 15, 2022

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Things to Know

  • Highway hypnosis is the act of driving while in a dull or trance like state that can lead to drowsy driving or disremembering your actions while operating a vehicle
  • Highway hypnosis can be caused by fatigue and sleepiness, monotonous roads, and inattentiveness
  • You can avoid highway hypnosis by getting sufficient sleep before a long ride, eating a light meal with healthy snacks, gathering new listening material, and switching familiar routes

Highway hypnosis is a temporary mental state that can cause drowsy driving and forgetfulness. Unfortunately, it may be linked to car accidents that result in damages, injuries, and even death. Therefore, it’s essential to know how to recognize the warning signs of highway hypnosis and avoid a car accident.

Please read further to gain an understanding of highway hypnosis, what causes it, and how to prevent it.

If you’ve experienced highway hypnosis, you know how important it is to ensure that you’re protected. Enter your ZIP code into our free quote comparison tool above to find the best car insurance coverage for you.

What is highway hypnosis?

Highway hypnosis, also known as road hypnosis or white line fever, refers to the act of driving while in a dull or trancelike state. It can often be referred to as the feeling of disremembering several minutes or miles of driving. Unfortunately, it can be difficult to recognize when highway hypnosis assumes control since most drivers don’t realize it until they’ve regained their typical driving composure.

With that being said, here are some signs that you and any passengers can guard against:

  • Feeling tired or exhausted
  • An inability to concentrate
  • Getting lost in your thoughts
  • Feeling bored or dazed
  • Reacting slowly
  • Blinking frequently or having heavy eyelids

Some other severe signs could include drifting into other lanes or onto the rumble strip. In addition, passengers can detect symptoms of highway hypnosis if you aren’t talking as much as usual, if you seem tired, or if you have a blank stare or facial expression.

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What causes highway hypnosis?

Highway hypnosis can happen more often with drivers who are experiencing fatigue. However, other factors contributing to highway hypnosis include monotonous roads, inattentiveness, and sleepiness.

Monotony seems to be a leading cause of highway hypnosis. In a study conducted in 2003, a sample of experienced drivers was split into two groups — one that navigated on a simulated road with multiple sceneries and features and one that operated on an artificial road with nothing but pine trees.

The group of drivers on the monotonous road — consisting of only pine trees — experienced higher levels of fatigue that peaked around 20 minutes into the drive. This study suggests that uninteresting roads can cause drivers to become bored and wearisome and that fatigue from monotonous roads can occur on short rides.

In addition, your brain can eventually cease paying attention to your surroundings, especially if you’re driving on a road that you know well or on one that is uninteresting. These situations can cause your brain to rely more on your mental predictions of what will happen rather than on visual feedback, leading your mind to become less alert.

Being tired or sleepy can also cause your brain to revert to autopilot. And monotony can also be tied to sleepiness since the repetitive scenery can cause you to become more subdued.

What are the dangers of highway hypnosis?

Highway hypnosis falls into the category of drowsy driving. While tired driving can lead to an inability to concentrate on your driving or to react in time, it can also lead to more severe issues such as car accidents.

In 2017, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) estimated that approximately 91,000 car accidents reported to the police involved drowsy drivers. These accidents led to roughly 50,000 injuries and 800 deaths.

Therefore, you can conclude that highway hypnosis and driving while drowsy may have serious consequences, and it’s crucial to have good car insurance.

How can you avoid highway hypnosis?

If you will soon be taking a long drive, there are things that you can do to help prevent driving hypnosis while on the road. First, if you’ve traveled the route previously, you may want to try altering your routine. For example, find a different way, take back roads, or use another exit.

Second, make sure to eat a light, healthy meal before you leave. If you have a meal that is too heavy, it could make you tired and sluggish. Instead, opt for a small meal and bring a few snacks for the ride, such as fruits and vegetables or light proteins.

Next, you can try gathering some new listening material, such as a new playlist of songs you haven’t heard or some podcast episodes that you haven’t listened to yet. You could also find a new audiobook to listen to on your trip. The new material may help to keep your brain more alert.

Finally, ensure that you get plenty of sleep and aren’t tired during the drive. Check medications to make sure they don’t cause drowsiness, and avoid driving at night if possible.

If you’re already in the middle of a drive and are attempting to avoid highway hypnosis, there are methods you can use to help awaken yourself and revert your attention to driving. First, try some of the following techniques:

  • Take a break – You can try exiting the car, taking a brief walk, or stretching. If you’re tired, you can attempt a short nap.
  • Have caffeine – Caffeine can give you a quick boost, and the act of taking sips of your drink can make your brain more alert.
  • Talk or sing – You can talk to passengers, make a hands-free phone call, or even talk to yourself. Try singing some of your favorite songs from memory or discussing something you’ve been recently contemplating.
  • Switch it up – Put on some engaging music, roll down the window, turn on the air conditioning, turn off cruise control, or adjust your seat upward.

Since highway hypnosis is related to drowsiness and inattentiveness, it can cause serious accidents. So ensure that you’re protected in case you or another driver experience highway hypnosis and cause an accident. Car insurance can help compensate you for damages and injuries, so enter your ZIP code into our free quote comparison tool below to ensure that you’re getting the best rates.

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