Have you ever driven somewhere and not remembered all or parts of the trip? Did you wonder how you got to where you were going? If this has happened to you, you may have experienced highway hypnosis, a potentially dangerous condition.
Why is highway hypnosis dangerous? Like its name suggests, highway hypnosis is a hypnotic or trance-like state. Drivers who experience it are effectively operating their two-ton vehicles on autopilot. The basic tasks of driving are so ingrained that during highway hypnosis a person drives with no conscious thought of what they are doing. They may be able to get from point A to point B safely, but if something unexpected happens on the roadway that requires active thinking and a quick response, it can lead to disastrous consequences. For example, if cars suddenly stop or a pedestrian crosses the road, a driver may not react at all or they may react too slowly. If there are red lights or stop signs, the driver may run right through them.
As you can see, if a person isn’t driving consciously, with their mind fully engaged on the task, it can lead to deadly injury accidents.
Why Does Highway Hypnosis Happen?
Researchers say that highway hypnosis occurs because of automaticity. In simple terms, automaticity is when we have learned something so well that we can do it automatically, or without actively thinking about the steps or processes involved.
While highway hypnosis is sometimes classified as a type of distracted driving, it is different because drivers don’t consciously know they are doing it. A distracted driver chooses to text on their cellphone or eat while behind the wheel. They can also choose to stop doing the distracted behavior. A person experiencing highway hypnosis isn’t aware that it is happening until something causes them to snap out of it. Unfortunately, in some cases, that “something” may be an accident.
What Is the Major Cause of Highway Hypnosis?
Highway hypnosis is most likely to happen to drivers traveling long distances on monotonous, straight roadways that have few turns and other attention-grabbing features. It is also called white line fever because the unending highway lines may help to entrance drivers. Highway hypnosis is also referred to in scientific circles as driving without attention mode or driving without awareness.
Highway hypnosis can also affect people who travel the same routes to work, school or elsewhere day after day. When experienced drivers know their routes so well that they don’t have to consciously think about driving, their minds can drift and they can be lulled into a hypnotic state.
Research shows that fatigued or drowsy drivers are more prone to highway hypnosis. But highway hypnosis isn’t the same as drowsy driving. Drowsy drivers may actually shut their eyes and fall asleep, becoming unconscious behind the wheel and losing control of the vehicle. The eyes of drivers experiencing highway hypnosis remain open and they stay conscious, but in a trance-like state. If an obstacle appears on the roadway, they may not be aware of it, or they may react to it too slowly and crash. If nothing unexpected happens during the drive, they may safely arrive where they are going but not remember getting there.
Unfortunately, highway hypnosis isn’t an uncommon condition. Any driver can experience it, including drivers of cars and other passenger vehicles. Long-haul commercial truckers can fall victim to it, leading to disastrous crashes. The condition has even been reported in freight and passenger train operators.
How Do You Avoid Highway Hypnosis?
There are several things you can do to try and avoid highway hypnosis:
Don’t drive if you haven’t gotten enough sleep or are otherwise feeling drowsy. Even if you drink coffee or another caffeinated drink, it may not be enough to keep you fully alert on a long trip.
Take regular breaks when going on a lengthy trip. Get out of the car and walk around if it is safe to do so in the location where you’ve stopped.
Switch drivers on long trips. If there is more than one licensed driver in the car, take turns behind the wheel.
Talk to your passengers if you have any. But be sure not to become so caught up in the conversation that you are distracted from the road.
Play loud and energetic music. Soft music may put you into a relaxed state that can help lead to highway hypnosis.
Open the window to let in fresh air. Getting more oxygen can wake up your brain and make you more alert to your surroundings.
Don’t stare ahead for long periods of time. Instead, keep your eyes moving around by looking into your side and rear-view mirrors and noticing traffic, street signs and other things around you.
Drive during daylight hours, as light may help prevent highway hypnosis. Don’t drive during time periods when you would normally be sleeping.
By being aware of what highway hypnosis is and working to avoid it, you can potentially prevent causing an accident and injuring other people, or worse. If you should cause such a crash you may be sued in court.
If you were hurt in an accident caused by another driver that may have been due to highway hypnosis or another reason, you may be able to get compensation for your injuries. Victims of car accidents caused by negligence may be able to get payment for doctor bills, lost wages, pain and suffering, and other damages.
Should you find yourself in either situation, it’s wise to speak with a knowledgeable Texas car accident attorney.
Contact Our Experienced Houston Car Accident Lawyers
When you’ve been in a crash, the car accident attorneys at Terry Bryant Accident & Injury Law can review your circumstances and advise you about your legal options. For over 35 years, our Houston law firm has advocated for people involved in injury and fatality car accidents. Reach out to us today to schedule a free consultation with one of our skilled lawyers by calling (713) 973-8888 or toll-free 1 (800) 444-5000.
Terry Bryant is Board Certified in personal injury trial law, which means his extensive knowledge of the law has been recognized by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization, setting him apart from many other injury attorneys. The 22 years he spent as a Municipal Judge, Spring Valley Village, TX also provides him keen insight into the Texas court system. That experience also helps shape his perspective on personal injury cases and how they might resolve. This unique insight benefits his clients. [ Attorney Bio ]