Is Highway Hypnosis a Real Thing?

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Many people find it very difficult to focus when they’ve been driving for several hours. The dullness of driving, especially at night, can lull you into a state that makes it difficult to concentrate. 

In some instances, drivers will drive several miles before they realize what is happening. Ideally, the reality of the situation wakes them from their daydream-like state. However, drowsy driving causes more than 100,000 accidents in any given year, resulting in nearly 700 deaths.  

Some say a common phenomenon known as highway hypnosis is to blame. So is highway hypnosis a real thing? Let’s take a look!

What Is Highway Hypnosis and Is It a Real Thing?

Highway hypnosis is when the repetitive act of driving lulls a driver into a dream-like state. It is a relatively common occurrence in drivers who spend a significant amount of time driving along interstates and highways.

Drivers suffering from highway hypnosis will often perform simple tasks like using turn signals, changing lanes, and adjusting speed. However, they’re likely not giving their full attention to what they are doing. The dream-like state may cause them not to check blind spots or avoid obstacles in the road.

How a driver responds when they awake from highway hypnosis is very important. If a bump in the road or another vehicle’s car horn brings them out of the trance, there’s a chance they’ll overreact. This overreaction can cause them to hit other cars on the road or lose control of the vehicle.

What Causes Highway Hypnosis?

There are a few reasons you can find yourself zoning out while driving down the road. Below are the most common.

Repetitiveness of Driving

Many drivers blame the repetitiveness of driving for triggering highway hypnosis. Driving can be very dull, especially when you’re driving with cruise control on for hours at a time. Not having to do much more than listen to your favorite tunes and keep the vehicle centered in your lane can be very uneventful.

A blue camper van driving down the highway. Highway hypnosis can be dangerous, especially for RVers who live on the road so it is important to take breaks.

Unchanging Landscapes

Some drivers also blame unchanging landscapes for their highway hypnosis. If you’ve ever driven from one side of Kansas to the other, you know the feeling. A less than stellar landscape to enjoy can cause your mind to wander. Before you know it, several miles have passed, and you’re hoping you didn’t miss your exit.

Night Time Driving

Another major cause of highway hypnosis is night-time driving. The reduced visibility and constant blur of reflectors can hypnotize even the most experienced drivers. However, no matter where you’re driving, the time of day, or how long you’ve been going, safe driving means focusing at all times.

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A man at risk for highway hypnosis as he's driving at night with no other cars on the road

The Dangers Of Highway Hypnosis

As we stated earlier, 100,000+ accidents and 700 deaths occur each year due to drowsy driving. Highway hypnosis is extremely dangerous. You do not want to be involved in an accident.

Not only is highway hypnosis dangerous for you and the passengers in your vehicle, but it’s risky for other drivers on the road. It only takes falling into the hypnotic state for a second to cross into the opposing lane of oncoming traffic. 

A head-on collision, especially at a high rate of speed, is almost always a severe accident. Head-on collisions make up roughly 10% of all fatal crashes.

Ways to Beat Highway Hypnosis

You can do several things to stay safe on long travel days or road trips. Let’s take a look!

Even on an empty highway, highway hypnosis is always a threat when driving for too long.

Don’t Drive When You Should Be Sleeping

It may be tempting to drive through the night or later than you should. When your body is tired, your ability to focus on the task at hand will suffer. You will have a slower reaction time and are more likely to overreact.

It’s crucial to know your limits and avoid pushing past them. It may be tempting to drive for an extra couple of hours, but it’s not worth the risk. Find a safe place to stop and get some sleep or take a short nap. 

Check Your Mirrors

When driving, especially on extended trips at night, keep your eyes moving. Make it a habit to bounce your eyes from the road to your mirrors and scan the streets. Don’t focus too far ahead for too long.

By checking your mirrors, you avoid the repetitiveness of watching the white lines and reflectors. They can play tricks on your brain and slowly cause you to fall into the state of highway hypnosis.

Pro Tip: Are you prepared if your windshield gets cracked? Check this out so you know how to handle it like a pro!

Keep Your Mind Occupied

Anytime you’re on a long drive, keep your mind busy. If there are other passengers in the car, carry on conversations. Find topics of mutual interest to keep everyone engaged in a conversation. It might surprise you how long you can talk about the same issue, especially if it’s one that everyone enjoys.

If you can’t find an interesting topic to discuss, you can always crank the tunes. Turn the vehicle into a makeshift karaoke bar. Burn through playlist after playlist on your favorite music subscription, and you’ll be there before you know it. However, don’t let your karaoke distract you from your driving! 

A woman driver trying to beat highway hypnosis by singing in the car with her passenger

Stretch Your Legs Often

Take advantage of rest stops and conveniently located fuel stops to avoid highway hypnosis. Get out and walk around the parking lot and use the restroom. Taking a short walk can help get your blood flowing. Don’t be afraid to do some jumping jacks, pushups, or a few sprints. Anything that gets the blood circulating through your body will do the trick!

Keep Snacks Nearby

While you’re stretching your legs, take the opportunity to replenish your supply of snacks. Some people like to snack on peanuts, sunflower seeds, or beef jerky. However, ice is also a popular option many drivers use to stay awake.

Coffee and other highly caffeinated beverages can help keep you awake too. One advantage to using liquids to keep you awake is that you’re more likely to need a restroom break more often, which means stretching your legs regularly. 

Stay Focused On the Road Ahead

Safe driving means staying focused on the road ahead of you while driving. You’ll want to give your full attention to driving. If you’re not confident or find yourself losing your ability to give driving the attention it deserves, it’s time to call it quits. Getting a hotel room or finding a place to sleep may cost you or extend the length of your trip, but it’s worth it. You don’t want to fall victim to highway hypnosis and cause an accident.

Have you ever experienced highway hypnosis while driving?

  1. I have a long history of this and except for gaurdian angels, I would be dead several times over. I like the suggestions often. Snacking is good but keep it lower carb because carbs can add to the drowsiness. Change drivers if you can. Teach your SO to drive the rig where they feel comfortable going straight without difficult maneuvers. If it’s cold outside, don’t crank the heat, that will bring on a nap like no other. Open the window periodically and let cool air in to refresh you. Keep a bottle of fresh water on hand in case you’ve got a while to get to a safe pull-off. Splash water in your hand and pat your face periodically with wind on your face. That will wake you. If you’re needing that though, it is definitely time to pull over and take a nap or switch drivers. Sometimes just a 15-20 min snooze is all it takes to regain the alert edge. Don’t fool yourself into thinking you can overcome plain exhaustion. Don’t drive late after a day at the beach or in the sun.

  2. And oh yes, driving in the rain with wipers going back and forth making it harder to see the road will also hypnotize. Especially harder at night even.

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