Imagine driving on a familiar route or a long, uneventful highway. Your hands are on the wheel, but your mind seems miles away. Before you know it, you have traveled a considerable distance with little memory of the journey. This phenomenon, known as highway hypnosis, is subtle and dangerous and it is something every driver faces.
In this blog, Greg Monforton and Partners dives into the concept of highway hypnosis, including the causes, risk factors and ways to prevent it.
If you have been injured by a distracted driver or one suffering from highway hypnosis, our Windsor-based car accident lawyers may be able to help you seek compensation for your damages.
Do you have legal questions after a Windsor car crash? Call us today: (866) 320-4770.
What Is Highway Hypnosis?
Highway hypnosis is a mental state where drivers are less alert and are barely conscious of their actions. Another way of saying it is that drivers are on autopilot. They are still driving the car, but their mind is not fully engaged in what they are doing. They react much more slowly to external stimuli, such as other cars.
Highway hypnosis commonly happens on long drives, especially when there is little change in the scenery, or you are taking a familiar route you have taken many times before.
This condition is also called white line fever, and the main reason it is so dangerous is that drivers do not realize it is happening. Sometimes drivers do not “wake up” to what is happening until they are about to get into an accident.
What Is Happening in Our Brains When We Experience Highway Hypnosis?
When we first learn to drive, every action requires intense focus – from adjusting your mirrors to watching your speed. Over time, these actions become second nature, a transformation powered by a process known as automaticity. As we repeatedly engage in driving, our brain shifts from active, conscious decision-making to rapid, automatic responses.
This shift is rooted in how our brain conserves energy. By minimizing the need for active processing during routine tasks, the brain efficiently manages its resources. On familiar routes or long, monotonous drives, this efficiency leads to highway hypnosis. The brain, recognizing the repeated patterns of driving, reduces its active engagement. Consequently, our awareness of our surroundings diminishes, and we enter a trance-like state where we are driving more out of habit than active cognition.
What Are the Risk Factors For Highway Hypnosis?
There are many risk factors for highway hypnosis that drivers need to know. If you know the risk factors, you might be able to prevent highway hypnosis. At the very least, you might be more likely to recognize when it is happening and “wake up” from the trance.
Here are some of the main risk factors for highway hypnosis:
- Nighttime driving: This is especially true when you are on the road for an extended period, such as when you are coming home after a long commute or from a vacation. The more monotonous the scenery, the more likely it is you will zone out. Commercial truck drivers are at high risk for highway hypnosis, as they are often on the road late at night on long drives.
- Monotonous drives: Some stretches of interstates or highways have repetitive scenery for many kilometres. Driving in a city or in heavy traffic is less likely to result in highway hypnosis.
- Familiar routes: Driving the same path repeatedly can cause drivers to drift into autopilot mode, reducing alertness.
- Fatigue and drowsiness: The more tired you are, the more likely you will drift into a state of reduced alertness.
- Stress and distraction: Preoccupation with personal concerns or multitasking can draw attention away from the task of driving. You may be stressed out about something happening at work or in a personal relationship. These things can takes your concentration off driving.
Highway Hypnosis/White Line Fever Puts You at Higher Risk of a Crash
Highway hypnosis impairs the driver’s ability to react to unexpected situations, potentially leading to accidents, such as rear-end collisions. Sometimes a crash is what causes the driver to snap out of his or her hypnotic state.
Drivers often must make split-second decisions to avoid a crash, such as hitting the brakes or changing lanes. When drivers are experiencing highway hypnosis, they might see something up ahead, but it may not immediately register as dangerous.
Another danger with white line fever is missing road signs or stop lights. This could lead to rear-end crashes or even side-impact crashes, as they head into an intersection after running a red light.
You can compare the effects of highway hypnosis to the effects of alcohol. Your reaction time and judgment are impaired, increasing the likelihood of more severe accidents or life-threatening accidents.
What Warning Signs Should I Watch For?
Some accidents can be prevented before you ever get on the road. For example, knowing the signs of highway hypnosis can help you identify when it is happening. This could help you wake up or even get off the road and have someone else drive.
These are the telltale signs that you are in the midst of highway hypnosis or have just woken up from a trance-like state while behind the wheel:
- Gaps in your memory of the drive, such as not recalling recent parts of the journey or missing exits
- Drifting between lanes and hardly noticing
- Struggling to keep your mind on driving
- Feeling like you just woke up
- Struggling to keep your eyes open
- Blinking frequently
- Delayed responses, including slower reactions to traffic signals and changes in driving conditions
Strategies for Preventing Highway Hypnosis
If you are concerned about developing white line fever on a long trip, there are a few things you can do to improve your awareness. For example, you can stimulate your senses by listening to interesting podcasts or upbeat music. Repetitive music is more likely to put you into a trance. However, remember to keep the volume down so you can still hear environmental noise around you.
Another way to help you stay alert is to talk with your passengers. However, be careful not to get into a conversation that is going to distract you from driving. Getting highly emotional or agitated can be distracting.
Other strategies for preventing highway hypnosis include:
- Stay alert and engaged: Actively participate in driving by continuously scanning the road, checking mirrors, and being aware of your surroundings.
- Driving a different route: Take alternate routes to keep the driving experience fresh and engaging.
- Manage fatigue: Ensure adequate rest before driving, stay hydrated and take regular breaks during long trips.
- Monitor your physical condition: Be aware of the signs of drowsiness and act immediately, such as by pulling over to rest.
- Putting the windows down: The sound and the feel of the wind can help you stay alert.
- Practice correct posture: Slouching in the driver’s seat is likely to make you more tired. Make sure to keep your head up and your shoulders back.
Injured by a Reckless Driver? Call Today For Legal Assistance
If you have been injured in an accident where highway hypnosis might have played a role, our experienced legal team is here to assist you.
We have been helping car crash victims in Windsor and elsewhere in Ontario for more than four decades. We are well-equipped to guide you through the legal process, seeking full compensation for your damages.
Contact us to set up your free legal consultation and let us guide you through the legal process. There are no upfront costs to pay if we take your case.
Greg Monforton and Partners. Experienced lawyers. Proven results. Call (866) 320-4770.