Highway hypnosis is a half-conscious state in which the non-thinking part of the mind is aware of the road while the thinking part is largely switched off. This is different from distracted driving where the thinking mind is still active but is engaged in a non-driving activity, such as conversing on a cell phone.

Unlike the distracted driver, the person who has slipped into highway hypnosis can’t consciously shift his attention back to the road. He remains in that state until he gets into a car crash, or some disturbance such as a shoulder rumble strip snaps him out of it. This makes highway hypnosis more dangerous. Even though his brain is robotically steering the car, it won’t be able to cope with changes such as sudden traffic slowdowns or the need to stop at a toll gate.

Highway hypnosis occurs when you’re on a lengthy drive that presents few challenges or difficulties. Straight interstate highways with light traffic make few demands on the driver. This allows her mind to slip away into thought or into a semi-sleep or trance-like state. While this can happen during any time of the day, it often happens while night driving. Nighttime darkness and the need for sleep during these hours make the driver even more prone to highway hypnosis. How do you avoid this state? Here are 11 suggestions:

  • Avoid long trips during your bedtime hours.
  • Take frequent rest stops, in which you might go for walk, or, if you need sleep, take a nap.
  • Lower the temperature in your car by opening the window or by turning up the air conditioner.
  • Avoid a fixed gaze. Instead, maintain your situational awareness by scanning the road by looking up and down the road as well as periodically checking your mirrors.
  • Bring a travel companion with whom you can converse and share the driving.
  • Sing or talk to yourself.
  • Get plenty of sleep the night before your trip.
  • Don’t drive when physically or mentally exhausted.
  • Don’t recline your seat. Keep it vertical.
  • Include some urban driving in your route.
  • Substituting caffeine for sleep makes the problem worse.

Finally, don’t force yourself to drive when your mind refuses to stay alert. Find a motel or other place to spend the night.

Injured in a motor vehicle crash because of another’s bad or negligent driving? Contact us at Hogan Injury to discuss your case.

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