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What is Highway Hypnosis and How to Prevent It


May 09, 2022

Some drivers often experience a strange event when driving, called “Highway Hypnosis.” Highway Hypnosis is a trance-like state in which a person who is safely driving a motor vehicle has no recollection of actually driving. Highway Hypnosis may cause drivers to “zone out“ while driving short distances or several hundreds of miles. 

GW Williams created the concept of Highway Hypnosis in 1963. One research study conducted in the 1920s found that drivers could “fall asleep“ with their eyes open while continuing to operate a motor vehicle normally. The idea was further developed in the 1950s as psychologists tried to explain the difference between automatic driving and driving while tired. 

Researchers believe that Highway Hypnosis is a form of the phenomenon of automaticity. Automaticity is when somebody conducts actions without having to consciously think about performing them. Some examples of automaticity include riding a bicycle, walking, and performing a skill. Once a particular skill is learned, a person may be able to perform that skill while also focusing their attention on other tasks. However, when someone is performing a task while their mind is on other things, they may experience partial or complete amnesia while performing the task. This includes driving motor vehicles. Although this phenomenon may seem dangerous when operating a motor vehicle, automaticity occurring with highly skilled drivers could be safer than previously believed. For example, thinking too hard about specific driving actions to be performed may actually make the driver less safe to drive.

One thing to understand about “Highway Hypnosis “is that this trance-like state is more like falling asleep than actual hypnosis. This is because a person who is experiencing highway hypnosis will scan the road and still alert the brain of danger. 

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration states that there are over 100,000 accidents and 5,500 deaths caused by drowsy driving each year. Several studies suggest that driving while drowsy is more dangerous than a driver who is driving while under the influence of alcohol with a blood alcohol concentration of 0.05%. The true difference between driving while distracted and highway hypnosis is the ability to take action when necessary.

How to Remain Awake While Driving

The following are some actions that you can take to help you remain awake and focused.

Drink caffeinated beverages – caffeine keeps you awake by blocking adenosine receptors in the brain. Caffeine also releases glucose from the liver and into the bloodstream, which then provides energy to the brain. By drinking caffeinated drinks such as coffee, energy drinks, and caffeinated sodas, you can help prevent yourself from falling asleep while driving a motor vehicle.

Drive during the day – one of the ways you can prevent falling asleep at the wheel is by driving during the day. 

Turn on the air conditioning – another way that you can remain awake while driving your motor vehicle is to turn on the air conditioning. The cold, brisk air will cause you to be less comfortable and therefore help you remain awake.

Stop and rest – One of the best ways to reduce drowsiness is to stop and stretch and perform some exercise. Some people will also stop and take a nap to help reduce their tiredness. However, it is better to stop and get a full night’s rest if you are driving long distances and you begin to feel sleepy.

Plan ahead – the best way to prevent falling asleep at the wheel on long distances is to plan ahead. Make sure that you have hotel reservations and that you limit your daily or nightly driving to under eight hours. Never attempt to drive your vehicle for 24 hours straight. It’s also a good idea to have somebody along the ride with you. They can rest while you’re driving and resume the driving once you’re tired, or they can help keep you awake.

The time that you or your family member have to file a truck accident injury or wrongful death claim is limited by law. Do not delay in contacting our law firm for your free case review and consultation with our experienced truck accident attorneys. 

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Please Note:
Many of our blog articles discuss the law. All information provided about the law is very general in nature and should not be relied upon as legal advice. Every situation is different, and should be analyzed by a lawyer who can provide individualized advice based on the facts involved in your unique situation, and a consideration of all of the nuances of the statutes and case law that apply at the time.