Highway Hypnosis: What It Is & How To Handle It

Picture this: You’re driving on the highway and you see a sign stating your destination is 90 kilometres away.

The next thing you know, you see another sign that says you only have 30km to go. You’ve already travelled 60km, but why didn’t it feel like you did?

This is one of the many examples of highway hypnosis. 

highway hypnosis: what it is & how to handle it

Highway hypnosis, also known as “white line fever”, is an altered mental state in which a person is driving at great distances, responding to their surroundings correctly and safely, but has no recollection of doing so. In other words, it’s like driving on autopilot.

highway hypnosis: what it is & how to handle it

Photo via NST

This strange phenomenon is caused by several factors. Most drivers often find themselves stuck in this trance-like state when they’re driving along a familiar or mundane route, most commonly to get to work. 

It has all become routine and you’ve memorized all the turns you need to take and the tolls you have to drive through, making it less likely you’ll be on high alert on the road.

highway hypnosis: what it is & how to handle it

Photo via FinanceAsia

Monotonous roads, or better known as boring stretches of roads that seem to go on forever, also play a big part in triggering highway hypnosis. 

The dullness of the journey slows down your brain and unconsciously puts you on autopilot.

When you drive along or stare at an unchanging road for a long period of time, your brain begins to pay less attention to visual stimuli.

highway hypnosis: what it is & how to handle it

Photo via sleepscore.com

Also, you’re more likely to experience highway hypnosis when you’re tired.

Drowsiness in and of itself is already dangerous for someone who is driving, but combine that with long unchanging roads, and you’ll find yourself cruising in a trance-like state.

Fatigue will only get worse if you keep driving. The sleepier you are, the more likely you’ll experience highway hypnosis, and making it more likely for you to fall asleep behind the wheel.

So how do you handle highway hypnosis?

1. Take a break

highway hypnosis: what it is & how to handle it

Photo via PLUS

It is not advised to take a long drive in one stretch. Instead, make sure you allow some time to refresh at a nearby Rest & Relax (R&R) area every hour or two, for at least 15 minutes.

This allows you to get some fresh air and take in a new environment, as well as take a quick nap to recharge.

2. Have a snack or some caffeine

highway hypnosis: what it is & how to handle it

Photo via freepik.com 

If you start feeling drowsy mid-drive, having some snacks really helps you stay awake, and gives you some extra fuel for your body.

Do take note, though, that fast food with lots of carbs or sugar should be avoided as it might make you feel sluggish over time. That’s why it’s recommended to have simple snacks like sunflower seeds that you can munch on throughout your drive.

Caffeine also runs in the same vein as an energy booster and helps break up the monotony of driving.

Whatever the preferred snack or drink, make sure it’s not too distracting or difficult to consume.

3. Talk or sing

highway hypnosis: what it is & how to handle it

GIF via gfycat.com

If you have a passenger with you, talking to them helps keep your brain engaged.

If you’re alone, call up a friend (using a hands-free device, of course) to keep you company.

Or if you prefer your own company, having a private little karaoke session with yourself is a tried-and-true method to instantly boost your mood!

The bottom line is...

On one hand, almost all of us have experienced highway hypnosis at one point, and we usually only realise it until after the fact.

But on the other hand, as common as this phenomenon might seem, it does not make it any less dangerous. So, keep these tips in mind whenever you’re about to face a familiar boring road to keep yourself more alert.

Drive safe!


by Amy Shariffudin