What’s ‘Highway Hypnosis’, & how it can affect anyone: We explain

The Indian highways and expressways have improved by a great deal over the years and currently, almost all the major cities are well-connected with each other. The new roads ensure that you reach your destination in less time and with stress-free driving experience. However, the clean, long flowing, empty roads have a downside too and that can be dangerous for you. National Highway Authority of India (NHAI), who takes care of most of the Indian highways has warned about a phenomenon called Highway hypnosis and it can lead to accidents. How exactly? Well, read on.

Highway hypnosis is something that almost all the drivers experience during long, uninterrupted drives. This happens to most experienced drivers including the truck drivers, who spend most of their time on the highways. The majority of drivers who go through this experience feel it on the smooth, empty highways and the feeling is like sleeping with open eyes. It is extremely dangerous and if you’re not aware of the situation, it can even lead to high-speed accidents.

It sure sounds quite extreme and scary, which it is. There are many who cover long distances while driving and at the end of the journey, they do not remember most of the roads or anything significant that they might have come across during the drive. It is like driving without the support of all of your senses. The human brain is very complex and during long drives, the brain automatically takes over the parts like controlling the steering and accelerator and the process is so smooth that you would not know about it. With a part of the brain controlling the steering and the accelerator, if the cruise control is not engaged, the other factors like a comfortable driver’s seat, a song playing in the background and straight smooth monotonous roads without any sharp corners make the brain to go into a trance-like effect. It can happen for several minutes or even hours depending on the roads and your mind’s alertness level.

Why highway hypnosis is dangerous?

When a driver goes through the highway hypnosis, the active part of the brain starts to shut down since it does not have to work much. It starts saving energy and automates the process of controlling the steering wheel and the accelerator. It is just like your hands and leg is controlling the vehicle without your conscious. However, if an emergency situation happens and you need to apply the brakes, by the time your brain realises, it becomes too late. This is how most high-speed accidents occur on the highways.

According to NHAI, several studies were conducted on the smooth NH2 that passes through West Bengal. The roads between Barakpur and Dakuni are super smooth and is one of the straightest roads in the country. The study revealed that about 60% of accidents that happen in this stretch are caused by highway hypnosis. The study was done a few years ago and it sure was a wake-up call for the authorities and motorists.

Can you prevent highway hypnosis?

It is difficult to predict when your brain will go into hypnosis on the highway but there are a few things that you can do to remain alert on the roads.

  • Take request breaks. If you’re driving over a long distance, a break every 60-90 minutes is advised to keep your concentration level high on the roads. The brain cannot concentrate for a long time without a break and it is very important.
  • Driving in the graveyard hours, which is just after midnight to the early morning will make you feel sleepy. The body clock will try to shut your brain and take rest and you can fall asleep on the wheels easily.
  • Highly caffeinated drinks like espresso and Red Bull will immediately wake you up but in a short time, the effect of caffeine goes away and that’s when you start to feel even more tired than before. Caffeine dehydrates the body. The only way around this is to park the vehicle and take a nap.
  • Make yourself uncomfortable, if you’re feeling sleepy. Turn off the AC, crack open the window if you cannot stop and take rest. The body cannot fall asleep easily in uncomfortable if it is less tired.
  • If you think that you’re on boring roads, take a quick stop, walk around, check your social media, play a game. Do anything that engages your mind and your concentration level high on the road ahead.