What Is Highway Hypnosis?

Tired driver rubbing eyes to stay awake

According to the United States Census Bureau1, the average commute in America is 26 minutes. In addition, millions of people in the United States drive for a living. When minutes turn into hours on the road, drivers can become victims of highway hypnosis.

Highway hypnosis is a driving condition that can have fatal consequences. It’s important to understand what it is, why it occurs, and how to prevent it. So, what is highway hypnosis, and how can it be avoided? Is highway hypnosis dangerous? Our Miami car accident attorneys explain.

What Does Highway Hypnosis Mean for Drivers?

According to healthcare experts2, the highway hypnosis definition is an altered mental state where a person appears to drive normally but has no conscious recollection of driving. The person may appear to drive safely. However, they are not aware of what they are doing, and they may not remember driving after the fact.

The person may be able to take basic actions for driving—they may still press the gas pedal and stay within their lane. However, they may not be able to react to unusual situations around them. Alternatively, they may proceed to fall asleep and lose control over their actions completely.

What Happens During Highway Hypnosis?

The frontal lobe of the brain plays a key role in driving. It is responsible for motor skills. Other parts of the brain are also pivotal, including the parietal lobe, which interprets the senses to form perceptions. In addition, the cerebellum controls fear and may help drivers avoid dangerous behavior.

In any hypnotic state, portions of the brain become less active. These are areas of the brain that keep an individual aware of their external environment. The way the brain processes information may change, and regions of the brain may act independently of each other. The disconnect may explain why someone may still appear to drive normally, but they may not remember having driven the vehicle.

What Causes Highway Hypnosis?

There may be several causes of a mental condition called highway hypnosis, including:

  • Tiredness – Highway hypnosis is more likely to occur when a driver is tired. A person who is tired or fatigued may not pay attention to driving as well as an alert driver. When you’re tired, your brain chooses to process less information. The condition may continue to deteriorate until the driver is in a state of highway hypnosis.
  • Long drives – The longer a person drives, the more fatigued they become. That’s not true just with driving. Doing any task for a long period of time may result in decreased attention to the activity.
  • Repetitive drives – A road may have the same visual elements throughout. There may be long stretches without stop signs, light traffic, few trees, and the same scenery. The repetitive landscape may result in the person taking in less information as they drive.
  • Medication – A person should always know the effects of medications before they drive.
  • Predisposition – Some people are easier to hypnotize than others. This part of the population may be more likely to fall into highway hypnosis.

What Does Highway Hypnosis Feel Like?

Highway hypnosis driver with glassy eyes

Just hearing about highway hypnosis may leave you skeptical. Is highway hypnosis real? Do people really enter a trance-like state that leaves them unaware of their actions while driving? The truth is that highway hypnosis is very real3 and can lead to hazardous conditions for drivers and others on the road.

Here are some warning signs of hypnosis while driving:

  • Sleepiness
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Fogginess or mental fatigue
  • Daydreaming or wandering train of thought
  • Feeling dazed or zoned out
  • Lacking awareness of driving conditions
  • Reaction times are slowed or delayed
  • Eyelids are heavy
  • Blinking frequently to stay alert
  • Drifting into other lanes or rumble strips on the road
  • Passing their turn or freeway exit

However, drivers do not realize when they are in this autopilot mental state. It’s only after the highway hypnosis that they become aware of their inattention. They may not remember driving several miles or even which route they took.

How Can You Prevent Highway Hypnosis?

Now that you know the dangers of this driving condition, you’ll probably want to know how to avoid highway hypnosis or how to fight highway hypnosis once you notice the signs. Here are some tips on how to stop it and protect yourself and others from potentially dangerous driving situations.

How to Stop Highway Hypnosis When You Notice It

When you suddenly become aware that you’re experiencing hypnosis while driving, here are things you can do to help:

  • Take a break – If you feel yourself switching to autopilot, pull over. It will help to stretch your legs, take deep breaths, and hit reset.
  • Caffeine boost – Drinking a cup of coffee or other caffeinated drink can help you stay alert.
  • Conversation or singing – Talking or singing can help to engage your brain to fight highway hypnosis.
  • Turn on upbeat music – Adding upbeat music to the driving environment can help keep your brain more attentive.
  • Roll down the window – Get some air and physical stimuli by rolling down the windows if you start to feel sleepy.
  • Check your posture – You’re less likely to slip into highway hypnosis if you make an effort to sit upright or adjust your seat to keep you from becoming too comfortable.

How to Prevent Highway Hypnosis from Happening

How do you avoid highway hypnosis altogether? Here are some steps to take before you hit the road:

  1. Plan ahead on where to stop during your drive.
  2. Try different routes than the one you’re used to.
  3. Avoid large meals before driving.
  4. Listen to new music or podcast you haven’t heard before.
  5. Get sufficient rest before long road trips.

Is Highway Hypnosis Negligence?

Highway hypnosis is considered negligence under the law. A driver is legally obligated to make sure that they are in good condition to drive. They should take the necessary breaks and get enough sleep to stay alert and attentive. If an accident occurs because of highway hypnosis, the person may be at fault.

If you’re hurt because a driver has highway hypnosis, you may qualify to receive compensation. Usually, highway hypnosis manifests itself by way of a driving error. The driver may drift into another lane, fail to observe a traffic signal, or drive the wrong way. The driving error may be negligence itself as well as driving in a condition where the person is unfit.

Attorneys for Car Accidents Involving Highway Hypnosis

personal injury attorney shaking hands with injured client

If you are an accident victim and the car crash involves highway hypnosis, our lawyers can help you review your claim. Our car accident lawyers are experienced in helping accident victims in claims, including those involving complex medical and factual evidence. We can help you prove fault and your right to compensation. Contact us today for a free case evaluation.

Sources:

1United States Census Bureau. (18 March 2021). Census Bureau Estimates Show Average One-Way Travel Time to Work Rises to All-Time High. Retrieved 11 April 2022.
2Raypole, Crystal. (2 July 2020). Planning a Road Trip? Watch Out for Highway Hypnosis. Healthline. Retrieved 11 April 2022.
3Lupkin, Sydney. (4 December 2013). You’ve Probably Experienced Highway Hypnosis. ABC News. Retrieved 11 April 2022.

About the Author

Jack G. Bernstein, ESQ.

Jack Bernstein is a hard working and highly motivated personal injury attorney in Miami, Florida with over three decades of experience. He is a strategist and idea person, with a genuine passion for helping his firm’s clients. If you've been injured, contact Jack Bernstein today for a free evaluation of your case.

The information contained herein is intended for informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice. Seek competent legal counsel for advice on any legal matter.