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What is Highway Hypnosis and How Does it Work?

07.9.2019 - 4:25 PM Comments: 0

We’ve all done it before: one second, we’re in our cars going to meet our friends at their place for a barbecue, and the next second, you’re right on the streets of your friend’s house. It was like no time at all had passed, except you know that the drive takes at least ten minutes with no traffic. How did that happen? 

Or, a more extreme example: you’re on the route from Ohio to California to drop off a shipment, and somehow, you end up halfway across the United States in Colorado in the blink of an eye. So what is going on?

If you have experienced this, you are not alone. White Line Fever, also called Highway Hypnosis, is a natural phenomenon that happens to even the most experienced of drivers. Lasting from mere minutes to hundreds of miles, highway hypnosis is when a person zones out while driving, with no memory of how you go there. In essence, it’s an altered mental state, almost like a trance. 

How it works

What’s unique about White Line Fever that makes it different from other driving states such as fatigued driving or driving under the influence is that when you’re under hypnosis, you still drive safely. Essentially, you as the driver are operating on “autopilot,” still driving safely and reacting as you would have if you weren’t under hypnosis. The trance only ends when your environment has somehow changed, such as a car cutting you off or receiving a phone call. 

When you’re on the road for a long time or on a route you’ve done thousands of times, your brain starts to slow down its activity. It recognizes that it doesn’t need as much brain power to do the work, so it shuts down non-important communication to reserve its energy and save it for something else. The end result is that different parts of the brain, such as the part of the brain that records short term memories, decreases its communication with each other.

How to avoid it

Fatigued driving, or drowsy driving, however, is a different case. At least 100,000 crashes in the U.S. per year can be attributed to drowsy driving, as well as 1,550 deaths. Therefore, it’s imperative to get off the road and find some shelter whenever you feel even a little tired. 

However, contrary to previous belief, hypnotic driving is a whole different case from fatigued driving. Instead, recent studies show that drivers still make safe choices when driving under hypnosis just as they would have if they were fully aware. 

Still, it can be somewhat uncomfortable to come out of a hypnotic state only to realize you’ve passed across three different states without remembering any of it. Furthermore, even if studies show that hypnotic driving is safer than fatigued driving, it’s generally good to practice on-the-road-awareness. If you don’t like feeling out of control like that, or if you want to be aware of the road at all times, there are a few things you can do to avoid White Line Fever:

  • Get at least 6 hours of sleep before each trip
  • Take a break every 90 minutes or so
  • If you’re with someone, carry a conversation with them
  • Listen to an engaging podcast or talk show

With that last note, while compelling shows may help avoid entering hypnosis, mindlessly listening to the radio can actually contribute to entering it, so be very careful with what you listen to on the road! And finally, remember, getting plenty of sleep the night before a long drive can do wonders for your emotional, mental, and physical health as well, not to mention your road awareness. 

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