How to Avoid Highway Hypnosis in your Daily Work Commute

Routine on the road can apparently kill you because of what psychologists refer to as highway hypnosis; a cognitive psychological issue that was conceived back in the 1920s. It is further alleged that highway hypnosis can be attributed to focusing too much on road lines hence the nick name ’white line fever’. It is a hypnotic condition in which a driver’s consciousness achieves a hypnotic effect while driving such that the mind is fully engaged elsewhere...

When the mind is disengaged, accidents are likely to happen

As obvious as it sounds, there is some psychological background to it. Highway hypnosis is likely to happen for those that are used to a certain route as they head to and from work:

  • It gets worse especially if you’re the kind that drives long distances frequently.
  • It is more like habits that we tend to find ourselves doing without having to make any conscious decisions.
  • And that’s because the mind is already so used to the habit such that the activity is stored in the subconscious where ’automated’ decisions are made.
  • Therefore, once the mind gets used to a certain route, it gives less priority to the road since a habit forming process doesn’t necessarily require conscious decisions.
  • Probably as one is driving, their mind might be focused on work related issues, home matters or something that the mind finds more fascinating than the same old work commute routine.

So what happens when an accident strikes?

Remember, due to the hypnotic effect, you’re basically driving with your subconscious from a layman’s perspective. Your cognitive reasoning is already settled in the subconscious as the conscious is engaged in matters that are more spontaneous and exciting:

  • So when an accident occurs, there’s a mix up involved.
  • Panic hits first and then the mind is alerted by the rush of adrenaline.
  • However, the mind has to struggle because it’s already settled in the subconscious and yet the accident urgently needs conscious cognitive ability.
  • And since the subconscious is not used to accidents, the driver makes rash decisions in hopes that their action or inaction for that matter, will help avoid the accident.

It’s no wonder...

Rush hours present the perfect opportunity for highway hypnosis related accidents

Morning rush hour presents that time frame when everybody has a lot in their minds and they want to get to work on time. Evening rush hours involve physically and mentally exhausted drivers that just want to get home and have that much needed rest:

  • In both instances, everyone is driving fast, roads are jammed and the mind is used to the ‘routine’.
  • The last thing you want in such a predicament is ’interruption’ from other drivers.
  • Road offences such as under-taking, speeding and other forms of careless driving are in fact the greatest contributors to highway snarl ups and accidents during rush hour.

How can you avoid highway hypnosis in your daily work commute?

#1 listen to radio content that keeps cognitive ability active

I presume that your car has a radio? In any case, this is the 21st century so I do hope that my assumption isn’t overbearing. Nonetheless, the radio is one of the most underestimated devices in a car. And that’s because it is the unsung hero that influences the emotional and psychological well-being of the driver:

  • However, if the driver is used to listening to the same old content on radio, then highway hypnosis is likely to happen.
  • But that depends on whether the content boosts brain activity in the conscious or in the subconscious.
  • Then again, we can’t simply listen to boring music just to stay cognitive - you might end up falling asleep in the process.
  • The good thing is that most people possess selective auditory attention.
  • This means that irrespective of whether the radio content is boring or not, there are certain words or noises keep the driver alert.
  • You can also juggle your radio content to add a little twist.

#2 Juggle your work commute routine 

Juggling music alone won’t make any difference unless you focus on the various aspects that trigger your highway hypnosis. For instance, your brain may have formed an unconscious pattern of your work commute that you barely think about while driving:

  • Try changing the route once in a while.
  • If you’re lucky enough to have two cars, then juggle between them to keep your mind on high alert.
  • You can even decide to take a lift from your buddy to work once in a while.
  • The point is to juggle so much so that your daily work commute becomes a spontaneous experience devoid of hypnotic routine.

#3 Cut your brain some slack

Hey, relax! Don’t take this too seriously. Have fun while you’re at it. And don’t make me repeat the old adage we are so used to - all work and no play makes jack a dull boy:

  • Remember, your fun activities might be the key to boosting your cognitive driving ability.
  • For instance, video games and sports involve reaction to abrupt stimuli.
  • Reading books involves staying sober despite that long and boring journey.
  • Social interaction involves controlling your rage and being polite. Otherwise, you might find yourself driving recklessly and throwing tantrums at annoying drivers simply because you never spend quality, refreshing and relaxing time with friends and family.
  • Last but certainly not least, plenty of rest gives your brain the necessary reset needed to freshen up for the next day’s work commute.

Experts have tried their very best to understand road safety, especially in the aspect of a driver’s cognitive ability. However, it seems like the more they solve the road carnage problems, more complex challenges come up in the process. As Khaled Hosseini once said, "Human behaviour is messy and unpredictable and unconcerned with convenient symmetries."