Driving long hours or in the waning hours of sunlight can bring about a number of concerns or possible dangers. Chief among these dangers is falling asleep at the wheel.
Unfortunately, falling asleep at the wheel is extremely common. Whether it’s a quick moment of dozing or longer stretches of deeper sleep, falling asleep at the wheel of a car is dangerous for everyone.
This phenomenon is often called highway hypnosis. People who fall victim to highway hypnosis recount terrifying moments and experiences. But highway hypnosis can be battled and avoided.
It’s important to understand the causes, symptoms, and results of highway hypnosis to keep you, your vehicle, and others safe with our techniques to conquer this dangerous phenomenon. With a better understanding of this dangerous occurrence, you can implement a few tips so you know how you can avoid highway hypnosis.
What is highway hypnosis?
Long commutes and longer road trips are more than just a common occurrence. Every day, people travel long distances for work, school, and other activities. Weekends and holidays are packed with long trips to visit family and friends.
With so much time spent behind the wheel, it’s a good idea to know a few practical tips for that next family road trip or long commute. The best place to start is with highway hypnosis.
Highway hypnosis is more than simply falling asleep while driving. Highway hypnosis, also known as white line fever, is the unsettling phenomenon of driving a motor vehicle without any conscious recollection of what’s happened.
A person with highway hypnosis is able to drive in a relatively safe manner and respond to things happening around them. But, once they arrive at their destination or journey hours on the road, they realize they don’t remember anything about the trip.
What causes highway hypnosis?
One of two things can cause highway hypnosis: a tired or fatigued driver or a monotonous drive. A tired driver is believed to be the most common cause of highway hypnosis, but it can also happen to a driver who is well-rested and focused.
Driving long distances with little stimulation or variation in driving action or scenery can also cause highway hypnosis. This kind of sameness or monotonous drive can lull the conscious mind into a state of distraction.
What are the symptoms of highway hypnosis?
Highway hypnosis can be easily identified. It usually occurs with one or multiple symptoms like trouble focusing, daydreaming, short-term memory loss, frequent or repeated yawning, drifting or other unsafe driving maneuvers, and an overwhelming sense of fatigue.
Most anecdotal evidence suggests episodes of highway hypnosis occur with at least two of these symptoms. If you or anyone you are traveling with begins experiencing these symptoms, you should pull over immediately.
Who is at risk?
Anyone can experience episodes of highway hypnosis, but there are some people who are more susceptible than others. For example, people with super commutes are more likely to suffer from highway hypnosis. Super commutes are extended periods of driving to reach work frequently.
Other people spend long hours on the road as a part of their job. People like truck drivers can experience periods of highway hypnosis as they travel great distances in short periods of time. Highway hypnosis isn’t the only concern here and there are other tips for truck drivers to stay safe while driving.
Other susceptible individuals include those with sleep disorders. People who suffer from insomnia, sleep apnea, narcolepsy, and even restless leg syndrome can be more easily overcome by highway hypnosis.
Results of Highway Hypnosis
Highway hypnosis is incredibly dangerous. It causes a high level of impairment or distraction. In fact, studies have shown it is just as dangerous as driving drunk or driving while texting.
In some cases, people are simply frightened by their experience. In more serious cases, however, highway hypnosis can cause accidents, personal injury or death, damage to vehicles and other property.
It is not something to be taken lightly or shaken off as a momentary lapse in ability or judgment. Highway hypnosis can have serious, and dangerous, consequences.
Tips to Avoid the Hypnosis
While highway hypnosis is a scary reality, there are ways to minimize its effect or avoid it altogether. There are five very practical habits or behavior changes that can be implemented to make your driving experience more lively.
#1 – A Good Night’s Sleep Before
The best way to avoid highway hypnosis is to be well rested. Before starting a long road trip or a super commute, make sure you have had a good night’s rest. Ensure between seven and eight hours the night before the trip.
A well-rested driver is more likely to stay focused while driving and be able to respond safely and quickly.
#2 – Start Early in the Morning
If you are starting on a long road trip, consider starting your driving early in the morning. Try to schedule your start time just after you complete your morning routine. This will ensure you have more time in which you will be focused and awake.
#3 – Cool Temperatures
Try lowering the temperature in your vehicle. Studies have shown that warmer temperatures increase the level of comfort and the likelihood of falling asleep.
If you lower the temperature in your vehicle even just a few degrees, your body and mind will respond by being more awake and alert. On your next long drive, kick up the AC or roll the windows down in those colder months.
#4 – Loud Music
Another way to beat highway hypnosis is to play some music while you drive. More importantly, however, make sure the volume is loud.
The louder volumes can help keep your brain engaged and focused on the task at hand. Remember you don’t need the volume so loud that it damages your hearing, but consider bumping it up a notch or two.
#5 – Practice Good Driving Posture
The last tip is to practice good driving posture. How you situate your body while driving can have a positive or negative impact on your driving performance.
If you normally find yourself slouching or reclining slightly while driving, then you will have a tougher time staying alert and focused. Make just a few slight adjustments — sit up straight and keep your head and shoulders facing forward.
Don’t be afraid to adjust your seat, headrest, and even lumbar support to encourage a straighter posture. If you have the ability and function in your vehicle, designate a setting of your driver’s seat as the long-distance position.
Highway hypnosis is a common and dangerous occurrence. Hundreds of people experience it every year. Each time a driver has an episode of highway hypnosis, they put themselves and other drivers at risk. Even if you don’t get into a fatal accident, a history of risky driving behaviors could raise your car insurance rates.
So make these few changes and see how much more alert you are. Who knows, you might even notice something on your drive for the first time.