The open road can be a boring place, according to science. While heading down the highway, the monotony of the environment can lead to a very particular kind of fatigue — the type that precedes all manner of dangerous truck accidents. It’s called highway hypnosis, and it’s a deadly hazard that every truck driver should learn how to cope with.
Highway Hypnosis Explained
Driving is what is known as a “vigilant task.” This means that drivers need to maintain a high degree of alertness in order to operate their vehicle safely and avoid hazards while on the road. The longer you spend behind the wheel, though, the more likely you are to experience task-related cognitive fatigue. Your mind starts to wander, and this is exacerbated by the fact that out on the highway, everything can start to look and feel the same.
So you get into a sort of “autopilot” where you aren’t 100 percent aware of all the actions you’re taking behind the wheel or what’s occurring outside of your vehicle. You may find yourself driving distances of many miles before snapping to, wondering where the time went. According to research on the matter, a lack of sleep can make this phenomenon even more severe, and can contribute significantly to hypovigilance (a lack of awareness).
Combating Highway Hypnosis
Your driving performance takes a hit when you’re experiencing highway hypnosis. You might start drifting lanes, changing your speed erratically, and will be slower to react to changing conditions. This is a clear danger, so one of the first steps in combating highway hypnosis is being able to recognize when you’re under its sway. In general, highway hypnosis includes the following symptoms, so use them as a warning:
- Concentration Loss
- Mental Fog
- Wandering Thoughts
- Feeling Dazed or Dull
- Slowed Reactions
- Heavy Eyelids
- Frequent Blinking
Once you’ve picked up on the fact that you’re drifting into a less attentive state, you can take action to combat it. For starters, you’ll want to try pulling over and taking a breather, as you’re presenting a hazard to yourself and everyone else on the road in a diminished state. Taking a rest will break up the monotony of the road, giving you a chance to head back in feeling refreshed. If necessary, include a short nap to help combat sleepiness too.
Beyond that, though, you can further recharge your alertness by having a bit of caffeine, throwing on some music, getting some air in the vehicle, changing your driving posture, or even talking to yourself. All of these will help engage the mind, and will reduce the likelihood of you drifting off and causing an accident.