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What Is Highway Hypnosis?

Published on May 28, 2020 at 3:40 pm in Auto Safety.

View of road over driver's shoulder

If you’ve ever been on a long road trip and suddenly realize a few miles have passed by with you barely noticing, you’ve experienced highway hypnosis. This phenomenon, also known as automatic driving, is a contributing factor to a number of distracted driving accidents; however, it’s not discussed as often as issues like texting and driving or paying more attention to the controls inside the vehicle than what’s going on outside.

Highway hypnosis is an avoidable form of distracted driving, but only if drivers recognize the signs and know what steps to take to stay focused on the road ahead.

Understanding Highway Hypnosis

Highway hypnosis, sometimes referred to as tunnel vision, occurs when a person zones out while operating a motor vehicle. Often times, they’ll travel a significant distance with no memory of having done so. Scientifically, this phenomenon is an example of automaticity. Automaticity is the ability to perform actions without consciously thinking about them.

People perform daily activities on autopilot all the time, like walking, eating, or performing a learned and practiced skill. Once a person has mastered a skill, it’s possible to perform it while focusing on other tasks. An experienced driver, for example, may plan out their grocery list while driving without realizing how far they’ve actually gone.

According to Sean Meehan, a University of Michigan kinesiology professor, a person who has lapsed into highway hypnosis is experiencing slowed brain activity. Essentially, the different parts of the brain aren’t communicating with each other as frequently as when a person is fully conscious. As a result, a driver’s reaction time is lowered.

It’s important to note that highway hypnosis is not the same as fatigued driving. There is some evidence that suggests a person experiencing highway hypnosis is still scanning the road for threats. With highway hypnosis, it’s possible to experience automaticity while wide awake. When a driver is tired, however, they experienced reduced awareness of other drivers and obstacles. Drowsy driving impairs coordination, judgment, and memory.

Avoiding Automatic Driving

While highway hypnosis may not be as dangerous as fatigued driving, it is still a form of distracted driving that can result in an accident. In order to avoid driving on autopilot, it’s important for drivers to know what steps to take. In many instances, avoiding highway hypnosis is similar to avoiding falling asleep at the wheel.

  • Drive during the day. Driving during daylight hours makes people more naturally alert because of the presence of sunlight. It may also be easier to remain aware of surroundings when they’re easier to see.
  • Utilize air conditioning. Falling into a trance-like state is more challenging when you have the air conditioning on in the car. If the car is too warm, your body is more likely to relax and mind may become complacent.
  • Take regular breaks. The longer your eyes are trained on the road, the more likely it is for you to experience highway hypnosis. That’s why it’s important to make regular stops to stretch and give yourself the opportunity to focus on something else.
  • Make time for meals. If you’re hungry or thirsty while driving, it’s likely you’ll be thinking about where you want to get food or what you’re going to make when you arrive at your destination. This can easily cause tunnel vision. Whether you’re heading out on a long road trip or are driving your normal commute, make sure your hunger and thirst are sated before you start driving.
  • Plan ahead. If you know you’ll be driving for an extended period of time, try to plan ahead so you won’t be driving at night or in poor weather. If those circumstances are unavoidable, make sure you’re well-rested and avoid taking any medications that make you drowsy or inhibit your ability to focus.

Unfortunately, not all drivers will take the tips above into consideration when heading out on a trip. If you’ve been in an accident because another driver experienced tunnel vision, you may be able to take legal action to seek compensation for your losses.

Distracted Driving Accidents in Columbia

If you’ve been injured by a driver and want to recover full and fair compensation for your losses, you’ll need to be able to prove the driver was acting negligently. If highway hypnosis played a role in the crash, this can be a challenging form of distracted driving to prove. Fortunately, Solomon Law Group has experience with all types of car accidents and we’ll be able to work with accident reconstructionists to determine why your crash happened. To learn more about the benefits of working with an attorney after a crash, contact us today.

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