Mathew B. Sims is Editor-in-Chief and has authored, edited, and contributed to several books. He has been working in the insurance industry ensuring content is accurate for consumers who are searching for the best policies and rates. He has also been featured on sites like UpJourney.

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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 exis...

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Reviewed by Daniel Walker
Licensed Auto Insurance Agent

UPDATED: May 7, 2020

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The thought of falling asleep at the wheel is a scary one. Long road trips tend to knock even the best driver into dreamland, and falling asleep often starts with what’s known as highway hypnosis. The accidents that happen as a result can cause serious injury, or at least raise your auto insurance rates.

So what is highway hypnosis and how can it be avoided? We’ve all been tired at the wheel, but some common-sense solutions can help prevent tiredness from becoming dangerous. We’ll explain what causes highway hypnosis and how you can avoid it below.

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How can you avoid highway hypnosis? (5 Tips)

Now that you know the symptoms of highway hypnosis and how it affects motorists, let’s talk about how you can avoid highway hypnosis for yourself. This section will go over methods you can use to decrease the likelihood that you will experience highway hypnosis, such as getting enough rest, starting a trip earlier, driving in cold temperatures, listening to loud music while driving, and maintaining good posture.

1. Get a Good Night’s Rest

Any trip you take should begin the night before. Being fully rested before you embark on your road trip will bring you a few benefits. Fully rested drivers are more alert and responsive to possible obstacles.

If you get plenty of rest the night before, you won’t be fighting sleep while on the road to your vacation or other destination, which means you’ll be much more likely to get there safe and sound. Start the trip right with adequate sleep.

2. Start Your Trip Early

Don’t push your driving off until the late hours of your day. Starting a trip shortly after your morning routine is done will keep you awake and alert much longer. Think of your road trip as a day at the office.

Don’t start a road trip in the late afternoon or evening, especially if you’ve had a busy day working or packing and attending to last-minute details.

You’ll be tired and therefore more likely to have an accident, which you will have to report to your insurance company.

Sometimes you just can’t avoid leaving until after work. In such a situation, consider breaking that trip up into two sections. Better yet, let someone else drive who is fully rested.

Check out this video for strategies you can use to stay awake when you’re driving after work.

3. Frigid Is Just the Right Temperature

Being too comfortable can sometimes cause one to succumb to highway hypnosis. Turning the heat on only compounds the effects of this phenomenon, as warm temperatures tend to make a person feel sleepy.

One way to stay awake is to keep the temperature cool while driving.

Try turning on your air conditioner, or opening a window in the cooler months. There are some more tips on staying up while traveling in this video.

The colder temperature will keep you awake on the road and out of your auto insurance agent’s office. It may not be cozy, but it’s better than accidentally driving your car into a ditch.

4. High Decibels Will Help Those Heavy Eyes

Don’t make yourself deaf with this tip, but turning up the radio can also prevent highway hypnosis.

Turn on your favorite songs and rock out while you drive.

Let’s take a look at how loud sounds affect sleep. This information comes from the Noise and Health organization website, where they detail how decibel levels can affect the sleep of healthy and sleep-sensitive individuals (people who struggle with sleep).

Decibel Level Effects on Sleep
Decibel LevelEffects on Sleep
Less than 30 dBNo substantial biological effects could normally be expected
30 to 40 dBPrimary effects on sleep start to emerge and adverse effects in vulnerable groups
40 to 50 dBSharp increase in adverse health effects while vulnerable groups become severely affected
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Your travel companions may not appreciate the loud music, but they will enjoy not dealing with the police and the auto insurance hassles of a wreck.

Also, make sure chatty passengers don’t draw your attention away from the road. While shooting the breeze can help you stay awake, it can also be very distracting.

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5. Practice Sitting Straight in the Driver’s Seat

How you sit in your vehicle is also significant when it comes to preventing highway hypnosis. If you normally slouch in the driver’s seat, you’ll have a much harder time staying awake and alert. Check out this video that gives tips to drivers on how to optimize comfort while driving.

Adjust your seat, headrest, and any potential lumbar support so you’re sitting up straight. Keep your shoulders back and your head facing forward.

Seat warmers should most certainly be left in the off position.

These comforts may help you in a short cold drive to work, but you definitely want to avoid getting too warm and comfortable at a time when you could be prone to highway hypnosis.

Dozing off at the wheel is a good way to cause an auto insurance nightmare. This news report goes into detail about the dangers of falling asleep while driving.

There is no shame in pulling off the road to get some rest. You want to arrive at your destination alive in your vehicle, not in the back of an ambulance.

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What is highway hypnosis?

Highway hypnosis is also called “white line fever.” White line fever is a mental state that occurs when a motorist operating a vehicle drives long distances and responds to events safely, but afterward has no memory of driving.

The motorist may not be fully aware, so their conscious and subconscious thoughts become fluid, which can easily lead to distraction, drowsiness, and other mental diversions.

What is the major cause of highway hypnosis? Being a sleepy at the wheel. The sleepier a driver becomes, the more likely they are to mentally diverge from what’s happening. Their memory can be affected, and they can even fall asleep. These conditions can be dangerous for motorists and anyone else on the road.

What are the symptoms of highway hypnosis?

Highway hypnosis happens when a driver becomes sleepy while operating a motor vehicle. It occurs for many different reasons and can be just as dangerous as driving drunk or texting while driving. Highway hypnosis, or daydreaming, can dramatically increase accident risk. Which of the following symptoms have you experienced?

According to the Sleep Foundation, the symptoms of highway hypnosis include:

  • Difficulty focusing on the roadway
  • Daydreaming or wandering thoughts
  • Short-term memory loss, such as forgetting the last few miles driven, or missing exits or traffic signs
  • Yawning repeatedly
  • Drifting from your lane or tailgating, riding along the rumble strip
  • Feeling of sleepiness

Many drivers’ highway hypnosis stories include one or more of these symptoms. If you experience any of these symptoms while on the roadway, pull over immediately.

Here’s a short news report from News 10 in Roanoke, Virginia, on how highway hypnosis can happen and how you can prevent it.

Is highway hypnosis dangerous? Yes. Anytime one driver lose focus on the road, it puts every other driver at risk as well. Long commutes are especially concerning. Take every legal and healthy measure you can to stay awake as you drive on the roadway.

Now that we know what it is and how to spot it, let’s jump right into how to prevent highway hypnosis.

Who is affected by highway hypnosis the most?

Anyone can be affected by highway hypnosis. The people most likely to be affected by highway hypnosis are those who have super commutes and those who work irregular hours.

People with sleep disorders are also at a huge risk of experiencing highway hypnosis. Here’s a list of common sleep disorders:

  • Insomnia is the most common sleep disorder; it’s characterized by the inability to fall asleep and stay asleep.
  • Sleep apnea is a breathing disorder in which a person stops breathing for 10 seconds or longer while sleeping.
  • Restless leg syndrome (RLS) is a tingling or prickling feeling in a person’s legs. It’s usually accompanied by an urge to move your legs.
  • Hypersomnia is when a person is unable to stay awake during the daytime.
  • Narcolepsy is a higher degree of hypersomnia, which includes extreme drowsiness during the day.
  • Circadian rhythm disorders are problems with a person’s sleep and wake cycle causing a person to wake during odd times of the day or night.
  • Parasomnia is when a person acts in unusual ways while falling asleep, sleeping, or waking from sleep. These unusual actions might include sleep-walking, sleep-talking, or sleep-eating.

Although auto insurance companies don’t look at medical records, your rate can still be affected indirectly. If you suffer chronically from any sleep disorders, you may be at a higher risk for an accident, and that accident will raise your rates.

Long hours on the road while commuting can also cause drivers to become sleepy. For motorists who work in other states, super commutes are common. It’s important to be well-rested for these long treks to work and home.

Super commute is the term used to describe an individual’s drive to or from work that takes 90 minutes or more.

What if you work in the witching hours of the night or the graveyard shift? Irregular working hours can disturb sleep. Establishing a sleep routine is essential. If you’re driving home or to work in the early morning hours, like 2–4 a.m., you have an increased chance of experiencing highway hypnosis.

Speaking of chances, let’s look at the number of fatal accidents that involve highway hypnosis. The Insurance Information Institute (III) compares drowsy driving fatal accidents with other fatal accident types.

Fatal Auto Crash Causes (2017)
Cause of CrashFatal AccidentsPercent of Accidents
Making improper turn4981%
Swerving or avoiding due to wind, slippery surface, etc.1,1032.10%
Driving the wrong way in one-way traffic or wrong side of road1,1872.30%
Drowsy, asleep, fatigued, ill, or blacked out1,3062.50%
Vision obscured (rain, snow, glare, lights, building, trees, etc.)1,5813%
Overcorrecting/oversteering1,8373.50%
Operating vehicle in erratic, reckless or negligent manner1,9963.80%
Failure to obey traffic signs, signals, or officer2,0954%
Operating vehicle in a careless manner2,9615.70%
Distracted (phone, talking, eating, object, etc.)2,9945.70%
Failure to yield right of way3,7117.10%
Failure to keep in proper lane3,8267.30%
Under the influence of alcohol, drugs, or medication5,50710.50%
Other factors6,22511.90%
Driving too fast for conditions or in excess of posted limit or racing8,85616.90%
Unknown11,71022.40%
None reported13,42125.70%
Total drivers*52,274*100%*
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The * indicates the sum of the numbers and percentages is greater than total drivers, as more than one factor may be present for the same driver.

The III reports that a total of 1,306 fatal accidents occurred due to drowsy driving in 2017. Although a fatal accident is more likely to occur as a result of speeding or drunk driving, the drowsy driving figure is still very concerning, for motorists and auto insurance providers alike.

Freight truck drivers, overnight media teams, and all other workers who work hours where the average person is normally asleep should develop methods to get enough rest and find effective strategies to stay awake on the road.

How is highway hypnosis different from velocitation?

Sometimes velocitation is mistaken for highway hypnosis. Velocitation and highway hypnosis can occur on the roadway, but these conditions are different.

Velocitation means a motorist doesn’t register the gradual acceleration of their motor vehicle and proceeds to speed up to adjust to the speed of other drivers.

This often happens when a motorist doesn’t use their speedometer to monitor speed. If a motorist finds themselves tailgating, they could be responding to velocitation.

With increased speed comes an increased risk of a driver getting a speeding violation or causing an accident.

What time of day does highway hypnosis happen?

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reported that most drowsy driving crashes occur between midnight and 6 a.m. It’s also been shown that drowsy driving accidents occur fairly frequently in the late afternoon. People can experience dips in their circadian rhythm, which is a biological clock in the human body that regulates sleep.

We happen to have some research data that shows the total number of fatal crashes by time of day.

Fatal Crashes by Light Conditions in Each State
StateDayNight but LightedNightDawn or Dusk
Alabama39512230735
Alaska3216204
Arizona40720321739
Arkansas2423016915
California1,351950855143
Colorado31311714723
Connecticut121883812
Delaware4317466
District of Columbia52310
Florida1,189857715155
Georgia74114850347
Hawaii4333162
Idaho120176619
Illinois49319127639
Indiana45011923729
Iowa160269815
Kansas2094612527
Kentucky3817923031
Louisiana29911324436
Maine8821485
Maryland21713912924
Massachusetts146798525
Michigan47118124538
Minnesota20854659
Mississippi3066622219
Missouri4811332372
Montana959605
Nebraska118324610
Nevada129110447
New Hampshire588266
New Jersey2601999734
New Mexico1595510122
New York46127315541
North Carolina66315342958
North Dakota438379
Ohio55619828749
Oklahoma3025522128
Oregon2205810214
Pennsylvania56917029745
Rhode Island3226143
South Carolina41110337040
South Dakota622423
Tennessee49815726928
Texas1,4367351,051107
Utah141306015
Vermont364185
Virginia4249922534
Washington24812013032
West Virginia153189712
Wisconsin2946716327
Wyoming563377
U.S. Total16,3356,5609,7191,440
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As we previously noted, the number of drowsy driving fatal crashes was 1,306 in 2017. The totals represented in the table in this section show fatal crashes by time of day.

More fatal crashes appear to occur during the day than at night. This is likely because there is simply more traffic on the road in the daytime.

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How do auto insurance companies manage highway hypnosis?

Auto insurance providers correlate highway hypnosis with DUI/DWI risk. If a policyholder has a claim on their driving record or insurance credit history that shows highway hypnosis (commonly known as drowsy driving), auto insurers will treat the policyholder as a high-risk driver.

The National Safety Council reported that a motorist is three times more likely to be involved in an accident if they are fatigued.

A motorist who drives after going more than 20 hours without sleep has a similar level of impairment as a person with a blood-alcohol concentration of 0.08 percent, which constitutes drunk driving.

This section will cover the average annual rates for high-risk drivers, factors that can lower rates despite a high-risk status, and a few other details relevant to how auto insurance companies deal with highway hypnosis.

What are the average annual rates for drivers with highway hypnosis-related convictions?

Since highway hypnosis is considered the same as DUI/DWI to auto insurers, the company will likely treat any highway hypnosis or drowsy driving claim on your record as a DUI/DWI. Therefore, the policyholder will have to pay rates based on DUI/DWI infractions.

But let’s take an extensive look at average auto insurance rates for the major car insurance companies based on driving record factors.

Average Annual Auto Insurance Rates Based on Driving Record
Driving RecordAverage Annual Auto Insurance Rates
Clean record$3,124/year
With one speeding violation$3,669/year
With one accident$4,100/year
With one DUI$4,920/year
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A policyholder with a DUI on their driving record will pay approximately $1,800 more than a policyholder with a clean driving record. Being prone to highway hypnosis will cost more than $1,500 per year. So if you occasionally doze off while driving, try some preventative measures to keep highway hypnosis from happening.

Discounts That Will Decrease Auto Insurance Rates

If you have a drowsy driving claim on your record or if you have a medical condition, discounts can go a long way toward reducing your car insurance rate.

Safety features on a motor vehicle are designed to keep you and your passengers safe.

They can also score you a discount from your auto insurance provider. The safety features are designed to decrease the severity of bodily injury if a motorist gets into an accident.
This means you’re less likely to file an expensive claim, and insurance companies will reward that.

Do you rent or own a home? Bundle your auto insurance policy with a renter or homeowner’s insurance policy. A lot of providers will give you a discount just for doing all of your insurance business with them.

Other Factors That Can Lower Auto Insurance Rates

Whenever you’re getting a quote, auto insurance providers will go over a few questions in person, on the phone, or even online. Based on your responses, they should tell you what discounts you might be eligible for. Some of the most common types of auto insurance discounts are credit history and commute mileage discounts.

Insurance companies correlate credit history to risk. The better the policyholder’s credit, the lower the average annual rate. But how much will you have to pay? Here’s another table detailing the average annual rates based on credit history.

Average Annual Auto Insurance Rates by Credit History
Credit HistoryAverage Annual Auto Insurance Rates
Good$3,166/year
Fair$3,687/year
Poor$5,151/year
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Policyholders with a good credit standing can save nearly $2,000 per year, while those with fair and poor credit have annual rates that are at least $500 more expensive than those with good credit.

A person with a sleep disorder or a previous claim of highway hypnosis will find that a good credit score will help them save money on car insurance.

If your daily commute is less than 10 miles, try to limit how much you drive. Auto insurance companies will give discounts to policyholders who don’t rack up a ton of miles. Riding a bicycle or using rideshare services will reduce the risk of you getting into an accident and your insurance company will reward you with a lower rate.

Auto insurance providers will inquire about the miles you’re expecting to travel during the duration of the policy. Let’s take a look at the average annual rates based on commute mileage.

Average Annual Auto Insurance Rates Based on Commute Mileage
Estimated Commute MileageAverage Annual Auto Insurance Rates
10-mile commute/ 6,000 annual mileage$3,911/year
25-mile commute/12,000 annual mileage$3,996/year
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These are general commute mileage numbers that are often used in the online quote process. The lower the commuting mileage, the cheaper the annual rates.

When you go through the quote process, look for what other discounts you’re eligible for. You’ll likely be able to find a few that you can add to your policy.

Frequently Asked Questions: Highway Hypnosis

If you still have some questions about highway hypnosis, check our FAQ below for some more answers.

Is highway hypnosis against the law?

Highway hypnosis isn’t against the law, but an auto accident related to highway hypnosis has different levels of legal consequence depending on the degree of damage and bodily injury.

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, drowsy driving laws go back as far as 1997 in the U.S.

The oldest law related to highway hypnosis or drowsy driving was passed as a bill in 1997 in the state of Washington. The law will prosecute a driver who is guilty of inflicting bodily injury during a drowsy driving incident. If the injured party should die from the event within three years, the negligent driver will be charged with involuntary manslaughter or worse.

In legislation passed in 2011–2015, New York has clarified their drowsy driving law to say that a driver will be considered negligent if they cause an accident due to drowsy driving. In addition to being found negligent, the driver will be faced with a vehicular assault charge.

Other states have issued a Drowsy Driving Awareness Day to raise awareness on the perils of driving while tired.

Why is driving so tiring?

There are so many answers to that question. Studies show that a motorist can start getting tired after driving for just 15 minutes. This happens because the vibrations of a vehicle can relax the driver. As much as drivers want to be comfortable behind the wheel, this can lead to drowsiness. If a person is not well-rested, to begin with, this becomes a potentially dangerous situation.

Also, driving works your mental muscles to get from Point A to Point B. When a person becomes mentally exhausted, the body is not far behind.

Whenever you’re tired, it’s better to rest until you’re energized enough to drive. If you happen to be on the roadway, pull over or get off at the next exit to rest a while. It’s better to be delayed than to be in a fatal accident.

How often should you take a break to avoid highway hypnosis?

Avoiding highway hypnosis is easy if you’re able to take a couple of breaks during your long commute or road trip. Drivers can benefit from a stop every 90 minutes on commutes two hours or more. Why do you need to continuously slow down and stop? In a city environment, this happens regularly because of traffic, stop signs, and lights, keeping you alert. There’s nothing to stop you on the highway, so you need to create your own stops to ensure you stay awake and focused.

What must you do if your car starts to skid?

If you experience the “white line fever”, you might lose control of your vehicle. Your car will skid and that can jolt you back into focus. If your car does start to skid, you should immediately take your foot off of the gas. Keep your hands on the wheel and look for a safe place to pull over. Steer in that direction until you either stop or regain control of your vehicle.

While you can’t avoid all of the situations that might lead to these kinds of auto insurance claims, knowing what symptoms to look out for and how to avoid them can go a long way toward keeping you safe and keeping your insurance rates reasonable.

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