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blog Auto Accident How Can You Avoid Highway Hypnosis?

How Can You Avoid Highway Hypnosis?

By Car Accident Help on January 20, 2023 | Posted in: Auto Accident

The United States is an incredibly vast country, and if you want or need to travel somewhere far away, you’ll likely have to spend a lot of time driving along a highway. Road trips can be fun, but when you’re driving alone or the hours start to stretch too long, inattention can become an issue. In some cases, it can be deadly. This is especially true for truck drivers, who drive the longest hours in vehicles with the most potential for damage. One tragically common phenomenon to watch out for is highway hypnosis.

What is highway hypnosis?

You may have experienced highway hypnosis before. Picture the last time you drove home on a desolate highway. You pass a sign that says your exit isn’t for fifty or more miles. What feels like five minutes later, another sign announces your exit is next.

This can be a jarring feeling. You must not have fallen asleep or you would have crashed, so how could you have no memory of driving for almost an hour? This is an example of highway hypnosis, a phenomenon in which a driver enters a trance-like state while on the road. The monotony of driving triggers your brain to enter a state in which you are less alert and operating on a kind of autopilot.

Is highway hypnosis the same as fatigued driving?

Fatigued driving is not the same as highway hypnosis, but drowsiness can be a major factor in highway hypnosis developing. You can think of highway hypnosis as a state called automaticity. It’s the same concept behind muscle memory. When you develop a skill, your brain recognizes when it doesn’t need to put the work in to actively think about it. When your brain is fatigued, it doesn’t want to dedicate as many resources to something it can do automatically. However, our brains didn’t evolve this capability when driving heavy machinery was an everyday occurrence.

Where and why does highway hypnosis happen?

Monotony is one of the leading causes of highway hypnosis, which is why you are more likely to develop it when driving through very long stretches of highway in flat, sparsely populated areas of states like Oklahoma and Texas. A key component of highway hypnosis is a lack of novel visual stimulation, which can lull the brain into a false sense of security. It can happen quickly, sometimes within 20 minutes of entering a monotonous stretch of road.

How dangerous is highway hypnosis?

Just because a road is monotonous doesn’t mean it doesn’t deserve any less of your attention. Highway hypnosis greatly increases risk of a car accident. The effects on attention are similar to drowsy driving, which causes 100,000 car accidents each year and leads to around 6,500 fatalities. Like drowsy driving, highway hypnosis inhibits your ability to respond to unexpected situations that arise on the road. 

Thanks to the ongoing trucker shortage, the risks of highway hypnosis for truck drivers are greater than ever. There are certain measures in place to prevent drivers for driving too long in one day, but when factors like ongoing poor sleep and food quality are in play, they often aren’t enough to prevent it.

How can you prevent highway hypnosis?

Even though you can’t always see it coming, there are some key steps to take to avoid it happening in the first place. These include:

  • Get enough sleep – Drowsiness can easily lead to highway hypnosis, so if you’re planning on driving a long distance, be sure to hit the hay early the night before.
  • Travel with passengers – While you want to avoid getting too distracted by conversation, having a calm, leisurely chat with a passenger can keep your brain just engaged enough to avoid hypnosis.
  • Take an unfamiliar route – If you take the same monotonous route often, see if an alternative is available. Your brain has a tendency to tune out things it’s seen before repeatedly. Even if the new route is also monotonous, it may be just new enough to prevent hypnosis.
  • Limit the amount of time you drive in a day – It’s hard to take your time when you need to get somewhere quickly, but if you can, try to limit your driving to no longer than eight hours in one day. Plan your trip with overnight stops when possible and necessary.
  • Consider what you put in your body – Try to avoid eating a large and/or unhealthy meal before getting on the road. Heavy, processed food tends to make people drowsy.

What can you do if you start to notice highway hypnosis?

Prevention is the best method, but sometimes highway hypnosis happens anyway. If you start to notice some telltale signs like drowsiness, heavy eyes, slowed reactions, or broken concentration, try a few of these tips:

  • Take a break – Get out of your car and stretch your legs. If there’s a rest stop nearby, walk around, use the restroom, and pay attention to your surroundings. When you get back on the road, you’ll likely feel refreshed.
  • Change your environment – If you feel yourself getting drowsy, try opening a window or changing to a different radio station or podcast. Novelty can help keep you engaged.
  • Have some caffeine – Caffeine is absolutely not a substitute for sleep, but if you are driving fatigued and don’t have the option to stop and sleep, caffeine can keep you alert long enough to safely complete your trip.
  • Turn on some music – Loud music can help keep your brain focused. Try something you can sing along to or something you’ve never heard before. The former will keep you engaged in an activity, while the latter can keep your mind interested with novelty.

Car Accident Help is here to stand with you

No matter what precautions are taken, highway hypnosis can still occur. It can also cause dangerous and deadly accidents. And even if you are doing what’s necessary to prevent it, that doesn’t mean other drivers are.

If you or a loved one are involved in an accident as a result of highway hypnosis on the part of the other driver, the skilled attorneys at Car Accident Help are an invaluable resource to get you through the legal process. If you need help regarding any injuries, contact us today for a free consultation.

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Attorney L. Ray Maples II wrote Don't Wreck Twice with the intent of offering guidance and information to vehicle wreck victims. The book provides answers to some of the most important and frequently asked questions following an Oklahoma vehicle collision, which will be an invaluable resource to those involved in auto accidents.