Dangers of Highway Hypnosis: Signs, Causes, and How to Handle It?

Sometimes after you reach your destination you cannot remember how long you have been driving and how long it takes to reach the point. Do you start wondering how you forget things all at once? Did you drive at the speed of light? How come you don’t remember the experience of your ride?

Most drivers who drive for long hours often experience these common phenomena that are generally known as highway hypnosis. This happens when the driver’s attention is divided into other things other than driving. It might be a talking passenger, radio, song, or the flashbacks of something that has happened that day.

What is more fascinating to know is that highway hypnosis reveals our ability to focus on certain things. However, our mind may maintain the awareness needed to comply with the driving requirement to drive safely adhering to the traffic or road conditions.

What does Highway Hypnosis mean?

The phenomenon of highway hypnosis was first described in an article published in 1921 where the author recognized the condition as ‘road hypnosis’. However, the term ‘highway hypnosis’ was not invented till 1963 and was first introduced by G.W. Williams.

In the beginning, highway hypnosis was assumed to be the reason for the motor crashes. Later, the research identifies that not only the highway hypnosis is the culprit, rather being drowsy and trance-like due to continued driving or being awake especially these days.

It is also possible that you may not realize when the highway hypnosis starts taking over unless you are stepped out of it from a sudden break or when something abruptly happens. Some of the common signs of highway hypnosis include:

  • Mental fogginess
  • Loss of concentration
  • Sleepiness
  • Dazed or dull feeling
  • Wandering thoughts
  • Slow reaction time
  • Frequent blinking
  • Heavy eyelids

If after waking up from passing several miles or entering into the freeway you didn’t remember when you have crossed those miles or you have entered in the wrong way, you might have gone through the highway hypnosis.

Other possible signs of highway hypnosis include catching yourself in the position of drifting at the roadside shoulder or waking up by high horn sounds.

The person with you might also notice that you had lost your expressions or you might have a glass-eyed stare.

Why does Highway Hypnosis happen?

Highway hypnosis happens mostly with tired drivers where you cannot only blame the fatigue. Here are some common contributing factors:

Monotonous Roads

Many types of research on highway hypnosis state that monotonous paths play a potential role in producing the phenomena more often.

In a research report, it was highlighted that driving simulators have been used to see the effect of monotonous roads on a total of 56 male drivers. These drivers drove for 40 minutes on two stimulated roads differently.

Both roads were monotonously flat, one of them had the same sized palm trees planted on the same distance with the same height on both sides of the road. The other road had different types of visual elements including people, signs, farms, and trees. The second road has also had some bridges, overpasses, and speaker breakers to break up the scenery in different places.

At the end of the study, the research stated that the drivers driving on the monotonous road showed more fatigue while driving for just 20 minutes. This proves that highway hypnosis can happen very easily to drivers driving on the monotonous stretch of the roads not necessarily to be driving for a longer period of time.

Inattentive Brain

Another research done in 2004 stated that our oculomotor system plays in enhancing the risk of highway hypnosis. The Oculomotor system is the system that controls the movement of our eyes. When you drive on the long road without having a greater change in visual elements, your brain depends less on what you see or on the retinal feedback. In fact, your brain trains itself to predict what you will see next.

In short, your brain alert mode becomes less active and you drive depending on what your brain predicts.


Possibly the chance of experiencing highway hypnosis elevates when you had less sleep or when you are more tired.

The monotonous roads can actually slow down your alert system and your brain start processing the results in autopilot mode instead of the visual elements.

This human state and the monotony of the road can actually take the driver in sleep or glass-eyed trance-like stare state.

How can you avoid Highway Hypnosis?

If you begin noticing the sign of highway hypnosis, you should take prompt steps to maintain your alertness and regain your attention. Try these tips to get back in the driving regime:

Take a break

The more you spend your time on the monotonous roads, the more likely you can experience your brain get into autopilot mode.

If this happens, then you can check reading a document. Possibly after the experience, you may need to reread the document. When this happens it is dangerous for yourself and the other drivers on the roads.

When planning a long drive, make sure to allow yourself to have enough rest for about two hours after every or two hours of drive. Get out of your car and roam around for some time walking or running. If you are feeling tired, try to sleep in a quiet place.

Sing or talk to someone

To keep your brain awake, keep talking to someone when you feel you are getting affected by the highway hypnosis. In case if you are traveling alone, open a radio or play a song and sing along. It makes your brain engaged.

If you are planning to go for a long drive, try asking any of your loved ones to join you, or if it is impossible to take someone with you, try connecting on the call with someone.

Otherwise, it’s always great to talk to yourself. You can repeat those rhymes and monologues that you used to remember in your high school days. 

 Or sing the math tables out loud, sing your favorite song, or talk about problems that may be stuck in your mind.

Make some changes

When you feel that the highway hypnosis is getting over and you can’t help it ignoring, then you can make some internal adjustments to shake it off:

Pump up the music in loud volume or high bass

By putting the music in high volume you can shut out anything that is making you feel drowsy. Avoid listening to soft or dull music beats as it may elevate a drowsing feeling.

Cruise control

Monitoring your speed can also prevent highway hypnosis to get over while you drive. The main idea is to concentrate on the road and engage yourself in different things.

Put down the window

A warmer environment in winters and a colder in summers can also trigger highway hypnosis, by making you feel drowsy and your mind unattended from driving. 

Drive sitting on the upright seat

Sitting properly also affects your experience while driving. To maintain a good speed, putting your seat in an upright position can provide you with good posture.

Preventing the highway hypnosis

Sometimes you just need to change the way you drive in a more active way. Try putting different strategies into your boring drive to prevent highway hypnosis.

Try another route

If your job requires you to take the same old road more frequently, changing your way or trying another route can help you avoid the experience.

You can also try:

  • Trying out a different exit
  • Taking alternate routes
  • Try taking towns instead of highways
  • Eat light

Imagine how you feel when you get your afternoon lunch at your work, a little less alert?

 Before beginning a long drive, eat lighter meals and pack little snacks for your drive. Keep in mind that you need to be alert without getting full.


  • What happens when you fall asleep while driving?

Possibly if you fall asleep while driving, it’s because you are tired or didn’t have enough sleep. Hypnosis is not sleeping, it is the feeling of getting lost and begins when your mind starts wandering.

  • Is highway hypnosis a real thing?

It can be dangerous to not remember things that you experience while driving. It’s a quite common phenomenon but dangerous for the drivers on the road and for yourself as well.

  • Who is at more risk for driving drowsy?

Whether you are undergoing highway hypnosis or feeling drowsy, everyone on the road is at risk along with yourself. While experts say:

  • People working for double shifts
  • Teenagers
  • Commercial drivers
  • People left undiagnosed and untreated
  • People with diagnosed disorders.

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