What is Highway Hypnosis?

What is Highway Hypnosis?

It’s 5:30 in the evening and you just returned home from a long day of work. You remember leaving the office at 5 pm, but don’t have a clear memory of the details involved in your drive home. Have you ever experienced something like this? What is highway hypnosis?

Highway hypnosis, also known as white line fever, is a trace-like state. You may have also heard it called being on autopilot. It doesn’t mean the driver is actually hypnotized. Instead, the driver’s mind is aware of its surroundings and can respond to normal driving situations, but he or she doesn’t remember much in the drive from Point A to Point B. In addition, the driver may feel drowsy or have dulled senses, but does not fall asleep behind the wheel.

Highway hypnosis can occur when you are driving for long periods of time or are driving a route that you take repeatedly. Usually, the driver’s mind is on something else other than the specifics of the driving task. A similar phenomenon can happen in other situations too, like reading pages in a book and suddenly realizing you can’t remember anything you’ve just read.

According to Professor Sean Meehan from the University of Michigan, “When we’re tired, effectively there’s a change in the state of our brain that results in that information just not getting to those centers where we actively, consciously process it.”

Problems Associated with Highway Hypnosis

Often times, we might experience highway hypnosis with little or no problem. However, that doesn’t mean that there aren’t problems associated with the condition.

When you experience highway hypnosis, your brain activity slows. That means that if something were to unexpectedly happen while you are driving, you will likely have a slower reaction time.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, there are over 100,000 crashes each year, including over 1,500 deaths, because of drowsy driving. Often, drivers operating under highway hypnosis are also drowsy.

One of the most high-profile incidents of highway hypnosis happened in December 2013. A train driver of a commuter train in New York veered off the tracks. The train had followed a sharp curve in the tracks going 82 mph rather than the limit of 30 mph. Four people were killed as a result. According to the driver, he had experienced a moment of highway hypnosis.

Your auto insurance policy rates are also directly affected by any highway hypnosis incidents. If you get into an accident and have car damage or an injury, your premium rates might increase.

Tips to Avoid Highway Hypnosis

There are many ways that you can avoid highway hypnosis. Experts recommend that you:

  1. Get a good night’s sleep the night before your trip. Feeling well rested will help prevent that drowsy, hypnotic feeling. You will be more alert on the road and better able to make decisions.
  1. Start your trip in the morning when you are still feeling well rested. If you start later in the day, you may be tired and less alert on the road.
  1. Take a break from driving every 90 minutes. Turn off the road, get out, stretch your legs, and walk around a bit. If there is another licensed driver in the car with you, ask them to take over for a while.
  1. Keep the car at a cool temperature. Turn on the air conditioner or open a window. Keep the seat warmers off. If the car starts to get too warm, it may make you feel sleepy.
  1. Sit up straight instead of in a slouched, more relaxed position. Adjust the headrest and straighten the seat. This will help to keep you alert and focused.

Speak to an Agent

If you have recently been in an accident, whether it was caused by highway hypnosis or not, speak to your independent insurance agent. They will talk with you about your coverage and make sure that the damages are covered. This may also be a good time to improve your coverage in order to make it more comprehensive.

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Jenna Christianson has a passion for research and writing. She has worked as a researcher for a variety of organizations ranging from genealogy to the transportation industry and everything in between. She is excited to be a part of the Enhanced Insurance team!

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