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What Is Highway Hypnosis?

By: Anapol Weiss

Highway hypnosis, or white line fever, can occur when a driver has been driving for too long. Staring at the lines in the road can produce a hypnotic effect. A driver experiencing highway hypnosis may be able to operate and control the vehicle in a normal, safe manner – yet he or she will have no recollection of doing so later. Driving on autopilot is a form of highway hypnosis. Allowing highway hypnosis to take over could result in serious or fatal car accidents in Philadelphia.

Why Does Highway Hypnosis Happen?

Highway hypnosis is similar to drowsy driving or falling asleep behind the wheel. The parts of the brain are not communicating with one another as quickly or as frequently as someone who is fully awake or conscious. This reduces driver reaction time and can increase the risk of collisions. You may have experienced highway hypnosis on a long road trip, if you snap out of a trance and suddenly realize you cannot entirely remember the last few miles – or few hours – driven.

Drowsiness and highway hypnosis can go hand in hand. A University of Michigan kinesiology professor, Sean Meehan, states that sleepiness changes the state of the brain. He says information cannot get to the centers of the brain that consciously process it when tired. Instead, the brain will unconsciously process it – often without the individual’s realization. This is what happens during highway hypnosis. The individual can continue to drive the vehicle without his or her conscious mind’s recognition.

Driving tired can increase your risk of highway hypnosis. The type of road you are on can also contribute. If you are taking a long road trip on a straight road without a lot of stops or turns, it can lull your brain into a semi-conscious state. A road with frequent stops or changes in scenery, however, can keep your brain alert and prevent falling into a hypnotic mental state. Roads you drive often, such as on a commute to work, are also more likely to lead to highway hypnosis.

How to Prevent Highway Hypnosis

Highway hypnosis is a dangerous phenomenon – just as dangerous as drunk driving in many situations. Highway hypnosis can make it impossible for a driver to react within a reasonable amount of time to changing roadway conditions. A red light, a merging vehicle, or a pedestrian crossing the street may create a hazard that a semi-conscious driver cannot quickly avoid. Slowed reaction times can lead to collisions the driver otherwise would have been able to prevent.

Help prevent highway hypnosis on car trips by keeping your brain from becoming too relaxed. You must avoid slipping into an unconscious state of mind. Preventing highway hypnosis takes a lot of the same actions as preventing drowsy driving. Try driving with the windows down or with loud music. Avoid listening to relaxing music or boring podcasts if they make you drowsy or cause your mind to start wandering. Get plenty of sleep the night before a long drive, as getting less than four hours of sleep poses the highest risk for a drowsy driving crash.

Take a break on a long trip every hour or so. Park someplace safe, get out of your vehicle, and walk around. If you have a passenger with you, let him or her take the next shift. Try to keep the front seat of your vehicle an awake zone. If you or your passenger wants to sleep on the drive, do so in the back seat. Reserve the front of the car for staying awake. Keep in mind that listening to the radio or drinking coffee might not be enough. Pull over and get some rest if you feel you are slipping into highway hypnosis.