Why Highway Hypnosis Can Cause Accidents

hand on steering wheel with long stretch of road in front

Driving can be a mundane activity, but it is also one that requires constant attention and focus. Nonetheless, many of us have experienced a time or two where our minds wandered–perhaps to the point where we were not even consciously driving anymore. This phenomenon, known as “highway hypnosis,” is quite common, especially among truck drivers who spend extended periods on the road. But highway hypnosis can lead to serious consequences, especially if it involves a 60,000 lb trailer truck. 

What is Highway Hypnosis?

Highway hypnosis, also referred to as “white line fever” or “driving without awareness,” is an altered mental state that can occur during extended periods of monotonous driving. It is characterized by a detachment from one’s surroundings and actions. Drivers experiencing highway hypnosis often “zone out,” with little memory of what occurred while they were operating the vehicle in that state. 

Why Does Highway Hypnosis Happen?

The repetitive nature of driving on long, straight highways with little variation in scenery can lull drivers into a state of relaxation. Combined with fatigue, boredom, and a lack of stimulation, this can lead to a form of autopilot mode where the driver’s conscious mind disengages from the task at hand in search of something more interesting. 

The unusual thing about highway hypnosis is that, in many cases, the driver is still operating the vehicle in a safe manner. This includes observing speed limits, traffic signals, and stopping/slowing down. It is, in fact, an extension of a normal bodily process known as automaticity, in which the conscious mind can detach from a physical task while still performing that task appropriately. Tasks involving muscle memory are often executed in this way. 

This is not to say that highway hypnosis does not cause accidents. On the contrary, it goes without saying that driving in such a trance-like state is dangerous, especially where larger vehicles are concerned. Should the monotony be suddenly broken, for example a driver whose mind is elsewhere may not be able to react in time. 

Highway Hypnosis Risk Factors

Highway hypnosis can affect any driver, but there are certain factors that can increase the likelihood of zoning out while driving. These include:

Driving longer distances: the more time spent behind the wheel, the greater the likelihood of experiencing highway hypnosis

Driving at night: night-driving is inherently less stimulating, especially across long stretches of poorly lit highways. 

Driving across monotonous terrain: when driving for long distances without much change in scenery, the white lines on the road become your only companions. You may begin to watch the lines fly by in an attempt to relieve your boredom. This can lead to the notorious trance-like state (and the reason for the name “white line fever”). 

Driving alone: it may seem obvious, but driving by yourself increases the chance of becoming bored enough to experience hypnosis on the road. 

Signs of Highway Hypnosis in Drivers

While it may not always be obvious that a driver is experiencing highway hypnosis, you can keep your eyes open for signs that someone is not fully present. As a passenger, you may notice a glazed expression or that the driver is looking into the distance, to the side, or anywhere besides the road in front of them. 

Highway Hypnosis vs Distracted Driving

While highway hypnosis and distracted driving are not the same thing, they often share presentations on the road. Highway hypnosis is involuntary, while distracted driving involves deliberately diverting one’s attention from the task at hand via texting, talking on the phone, etc. Nonetheless, signs of highway hypnosis and distracted driving are similar:

  • Swerving or drifting 
  • Forgetting to signal
  • Sudden stops
  • Failing to slow down for a speed bump or other obstacle
  • Risky lane changes
  • Speeding or going much too slowly

Accidents and Highway Hypnosis

The consequences of highway hypnosis can be dire. Inattentiveness to the road can lead to delayed reaction times, failure to notice hazards or changes in traffic conditions, and even falling asleep at the wheel. This increases the risk of collisions, particularly rear-end accidents, lane change accidents, and collisions with stationary objects or other vehicles (see: rollover accidents).

Compensation for a Highway Hypnosis Accident

If you or a loved one was involved in an accident caused by highway hypnosis, you will want to speak with a qualified personal injury attorney. Determining liability can be especially difficult in cases involving large trucks, and the injuries sustained in such accidents are often much more severe. For these reasons, you will want to entrust your case with an experienced attorney. He or she can help you build your case and seek fair compensation. 

In Colorado, the accident attorneys at the Roth Group are here to help. We pride ourselves on our compassion and dedication, and we work tirelessly to ensure our clients receive the compensation they deserve. Call or go online today to schedule your free consultation