Highway Hypnosis is Related to Automaticity and Brain Inattention

Highway hypnosis is a phenomenon that causes you to go into a trance-like state while driving, especially on long and monotonous roads. You may not always realize when highway hypnosis takes over, but some signs include:

– sleepiness

– loss of concentration or mental fogginess

– wandering thoughts

– a dull or dazed feeling

– slow reaction time

– heavy eyelids or frequent blinking

If you suddenly realize you’ve just passed your freeway exit or you can’t remember anything about the last several miles, you’ve probably experienced highway hypnosis. Other telltale signs include catching yourself drifting into the next lane or driving onto the rumble strip.

What Causes Highway Hypnosis?

Highway hypnosis is not the same as fatigued driving, as a person may engage in automatic driving safely. However, fatigue can increase the risk of highway hypnosis. Here are some of the major factors that contribute to this phenomenon.

Monotonous Roads

Most existing research on highway hypnosis suggests monotony plays a significant part in this phenomenon. When you drive along a road that has little or no variation in scenery, your brain gets bored and less alert. A 2003 study used a driving

simulator to study the effects of road monotony on 56 experienced male drivers. The participants “drove” on two different simulated roads for 40 minutes at a time. Both roads were flat, but the first road only had one type of visual scenery: pine trees spaced equally on either side of the road. The second road contained multiple visual elements, including trees, farms, signs, and people. Flat bridges and overpasses also broke up the scenery in several different places.Researchers found that the drivers tended to show more fatigue, measured by large steering movements, while driving on the more monotonous road. Also noteworthy was the fact their fatigue peaked after approximately 20 minutes of driving. This suggests highway hypnosis may happen very quickly on monotonous stretches of road, not only after long periods of driving.

Brain Inattention

According to other research from 2004, your oculomotor system, or the system that controls eye movements, also plays a part in highway hypnosis. When you drive along a road you know well or stare at a largely unchanging road for a long period of time, your brain begins to depend less on retinal feedback, or what you actually see.

Instead, your brain relies more on efference copy, or what you expect to see based on your previous experience. This means your brain is less attentive to the actual visual information coming from your eyes and more attentive to your internal thoughts or memories. This can lead to a dissociation between your conscious awareness and your driving behavior.

How to Prevent Highway Hypnosis?

Highway hypnosis can be dangerous because it reduces your alertness and awareness of your surroundings. It can also impair your ability to react quickly to unexpected situations or hazards on the road. Therefore, it is important to take steps to prevent highway hypnosis and stay focused while driving. Some tips for preventing highway hypnosis include:

– Take breaks while driving. If you are going to drive for a long time, make sure to stop every two hours or so and stretch your legs, get some fresh air, drink some water, or have a snack. This can help you refresh your mind and body and break the monotony of the road.

– Avoid driving late at night. Driving when you are tired or sleepy can increase the risk of highway hypnosis and drowsy driving. Try to avoid driving during your normal sleeping hours or when you feel fatigued. If you feel sleepy while driving, pull over and take a nap or switch drivers if possible.

– Keep a cool temperature in your car to assist with alertness. Driving in a warm or cozy environment can make you feel more relaxed and sleepy, which can trigger highway hypnosis. To avoid this, keep your car temperature cool and comfortable, and avoid wearing heavy clothing or blankets while driving.

– Talk to any passengers in the car. Having a conversation with someone else in the car can help you stay engaged and alert while driving. However, make sure the conversation is not too distracting or stressful, as this can also affect your driving performance. Avoid using your phone or other devices while driving, as this can take your attention away from the road and increase the risk of accidents.

– Check your mirrors often. Changing your gaze frequently can help you avoid staring at a fixed point for too long and falling into highway hypnosis. Checking your mirrors can also help you stay aware of your surroundings and other vehicles on the road .


Highway hypnosis is a common phenomenon that can affect anyone who drives on long or familiar roads. It is caused by monotony and brain inattention that reduce your alertness and awareness while driving. Highway hypnosis can be prevented by taking breaks, avoiding driving when tired, keeping a cool temperature in the car, talking to passengers, and checking mirrors often.

Highway hypnosis is related to automaticity and brain inattention, but it is not the same as fatigued driving or distracted driving. However, it can still impair your driving performance and increase the risk of accidents. Therefore, it is important to stay focused and alert while driving and avoid highway hypnosis.

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