Five Tips For Avoiding Highway Hypnosis (Expert Advice + Laws)

Highway hypnosis is the term for the state a driver enters when they are not paying close attention to the road or what is happening around them. This can have serious consequences for your safety and that of those around you, as well as your wallet.

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Rachel Bodine graduated from college with a BA in English. She has since worked as a Feature Writer in the insurance industry and gained a deep knowledge of state and countrywide insurance laws and rates. Her research and writing focus on helping readers understand their insurance coverage and how to find savings. Her expert advice on insurance has been featured on sites like PhotoEnforced, All...

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Written by Rachel Bodine
Feature Writer Rachel Bodine

Dan Walker graduated with a BS in Administrative Management in 2005 and has been working in his family’s insurance agency, FCI Agency, for 15 years (BBB A+). He is licensed as an agent to write property and casualty insurance, including home, auto, umbrella, and dwelling fire insurance. He’s also been featured on sites like Reviews.com and Safeco. He reviews content, ensuring that ex...

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Reviewed by Daniel Walker
Licensed Auto Insurance Agent Daniel Walker

UPDATED: May 18, 2022

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Things to Remember

  • Highway hypnosis occurs when a driver’s attention slips from the road and they can’t remember the actions they took while driving
  • Although highway hypnosis is a common experience, it can be incredibly dangerous
  • Highway hypnosis is different from driver fatigue, though they often coincide with each other

Imagine you’ve finished up work for the day, and you’re heading home. You get into your car and start down the same route you always take. Before you know it, you’ve pulled into your driveway. You don’t remember anything, not even if you followed traffic laws.

Highway hypnosis might sound mystical, but it’s a common experience most drivers have dealt with. This phenomenon occurs when you zone out while driving and muscle memory kicks in. Usually, drivers experiencing highway hypnosis follow traffic laws, but it can also cause serious problems.

From damage to your vehicle to increased car insurance rates, it’s best to avoid falling under the effects of highway hypnosis. Read on to learn about highway hypnosis, how to prevent it, and how it might affect the price of your car insurance.

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What is highway hypnosis?

Highway hypnosis is a common phenomenon most drivers experience at least once, and it’s been around almost as long as people have been driving. It was first described as road hypnotism in 1921 when researchers noticed drivers could safely steer their cars even though they appeared to be sleeping with their eyes open.

Since then, psychologists have researched this phenomenon extensively. Also known as white line fever, highway hypnosis occurs when you operate your car normally but have no memory of doing so. Drivers can zone out for a few seconds or hundreds of miles under highway hypnosis.

Many drivers are disturbed after experiencing highway hypnosis. They have no idea if they used turn signals, stopped at red lights, or even if they put other drivers in danger. Worse, you often can’t tell you’re experiencing highway hypnosis until after snapping out of it.

However, there are some symptoms you can look for. If you experience the following, you might be close to highway hypnosis:

  • Wandering thoughts
  • Drowsiness
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Feeling dazed or dull
  • Slower reaction times

People typically realize they’ve been under highway hypnosis when they miss an exit on the freeway or pull into their driveway without remembering how they got there.

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Is highway hypnosis the same as driving while fatigued?

Tired driving and highway hypnosis are not the same, though being sleepy is often a cause of white line fever.

Highway hypnosis is a type of automaticity. Automaticity is the phenomenon behind muscle memory – when you can perform an action successfully without thinking about it. One of the most basic automatic actions people perform is walking. It can also happen during bike riding and physical activities that have been practiced extensively.

The automatic part of highway hypnosis might seem dangerous, but it’s typically harmless. As with all practiced skills, you don’t usually need to focus your thoughts on repetitive tasks. Scanning for dangers, obeying traffic lights, and following a route typically don’t require much brainpower for experienced drivers.

The danger of highway hypnosis comes from symptoms related to being tired. According to the CDC, drowsy driving is often equated to driving drunk and is a leading cause of traffic accidents.

Tired drivers usually experience tunnel vision, which limits their ability to notice other cars and traffic obstacles. Being tired also slows your reaction time and reduces your coordination.

Why does highway hypnosis happen?

Although sleepiness is often a cause of highway hypnosis, it’s not the only cause.

A leading cause is monotonous roads. Anyone who’s driven through states like Oklahoma or Texas on the I-40 can attest that long stretches in the same landscape can lead to highway hypnosis. Researchers have found that hypnosis starts as early as 20 minutes on a monotonous road.

Another factor lies in how the human brain processes information. Your eyes relay information to your brain, which your brain turns into a visual map of your surroundings. When you drive on a road you know well (or the road is monotonous), your brain doesn’t pay as much attention to retinal feedback.

Instead, your brain starts predicting what will happen. Once your brain starts predicting, highway hypnosis typically follows.

Of course, driver fatigue is one of the leading causes of hypnosis. Monotonous or familiar roads lower your brain’s alertness, but so does sleepiness.

Five Tips to Avoid Highway Hypnosis

Although driving on autopilot comes with experience, it’s usually best to avoid highway hypnosis. This is especially true when you’re on a long road trip.

Avoiding highway hypnosis is critical to protect the life of yourself and those around you, but it’s also important for other reasons. For example, you’re more likely to cause an accident when you’re feeling the effects of highway hypnosis.

Accidents can lead to costly repairs for your car, expensive medical bills, and increased car insurance rates.

When you notice yourself experiencing highway hypnosis, the best thing to do is get off the road for the night. However, that’s not always possible. If you find yourself under the effects of white line fever, use the following tips to get back on track.

Get Enough Sleep

While this won’t help you during hypnosis, getting enough rest before a trip is a simple way to help keep your mind focused on driving.

Adults require around seven hours of sleep to function properly, while teens need eight. A good night’s rest can make the difference between staying alert and succumbing to drowsiness.

If you don’t get the right amount of sleep, try driving during sunlight hours. Driving in low light makes it more difficult to drive safely. It’s also a contributing factor to drowsiness while you drive.

Take a Break

Modern society has people sitting in place for longer periods than ever before. From office jobs to long drives, experts agree that frequent breaks are essential for your health.

When it comes to driving, you should try to stop every hour or two to stretch, get your blood flowing, and clear your head. Try to go to the bathroom or grab a snack and a drink before getting back in the car.

If you’re struggling with sleepiness but can’t stop driving, a caffeinated beverage like coffee or green tea can help. When you can’t keep your eyes open, you should try to rest. Either spend the night in a nearby hotel or consider a short nap in your car if you have no other option.

Talk to Someone

If you have passengers in your car, strike up a conversation. Talking with someone can help your brain stay focused rather than slide off into daydreams. It can also help stave off the lull of sleep.

As long as you have a safe hands-free device, you can also make a phone call. In fact, if you have a long trip ahead of you, it can be beneficial to have someone on standby to call when focusing gets difficult.

If there’s no one you can talk to, you can always talk to yourself. Alternatively, turn on the radio and sing along with your favorite songs.

Make an Environment Change

There are several things you can do in your car to increase your ability to focus. Consider the following:

  • Turn on the AC. It might not be comfortable, but cool air keeps your brain alert.
  • Roll down the window. The feeling of fresh air blowing on your face will also help you stay awake.
  • Turn on music. Upbeat, energetic music or an engaging podcast can give your mind a reason to stay awake. Make sure to avoid music that makes you sleepy.
  • Keep your seat upright. While it might be tempting to lower your seat for comfort, keeping your head upright can help stimulate your brain to focus.

You should also avoid seat warmers and anything else that increases your chances of falling asleep. It might not be the most comfortable, but it will help keep you safe.

Skip Big Meals

Notice how you feel drowsy after a large meal? Try to avoid a big meal before you get behind the wheel of your car, especially if you have a long way to go.

Drowsiness happens after a big meal because your body focuses its resources on breaking down the food. The more you eat, the more energy goes to your digestive tract.

However, a little bit of food can be helpful. A healthy snack can keep your energy levels up, and your mind focused on the task of driving.

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Is driving with highway hypnosis illegal?

Driving while experiencing highway hypnosis is not illegal, similar to how there’s nothing stopping you from driving while exhausted. However, you can be held legally liable for damage you cause while under the effects of highway hypnosis.

For example, if you cause an accident that results in a fatality, you can be charged with criminal negligence for not pulling over when you should have.

You can also be charged with reckless driving if you swerve into someone else’s lane or fail to use your turn signal. Driving while tired or feeling highway hypnosis isn’t illegal, but it can lead to disastrous results. If you’re worried about your driving, your best bet is to stop driving as soon as possible.

Avoid the Dangers of Highway Hypnosis

Highway hypnosis presents a threat to you as the driver, your passengers, and other drivers around you. White line fever lowers your ability to react to the dangers of the road, which can lead to accidents, medical bills, and increased insurance rates. In fact, a single at-fault accident can raise your rates by almost 50%.

If your car insurance rates have increased after an accident caused by highway hypnosis, there are ways to help reduce how much you’ll pay. One of the most crucial first steps to take is to compare rates with other companies to make sure you get the best price possible.

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