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There’s A Medical Term For Driving On Motorway Without Consciously Doing So

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There’s A Medical Term For Driving On Motorway Without Consciously Doing So

When driving along on the motorway, do you ever find yourself suddenly having a flash of realisation that you're at the wheel, and you can't remember the last... well, however long has led up to that moment?

Well, you might have been struck by a case of highway hypnosis. Not heard of it? It's the proper term used for when we go into complete autopilot with no recollection of being behind the wheel.

Credit: PA
Credit: PA

The term was highlighted recently when it emerged on the Today I Learned (TIL) subreddit, where one Redditor wrote: "TIL 'Highway hypnosis' is an altered mental state in which a person can safely drive an automobile great distances with no recollection of having consciously done so.

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"It is a manifestation of automaticity, where the conscious and subconscious minds are able to concentrate on different things."

This is backed up by the Automobile Association's Paul Watters, who told the BBC in 2013: "It's a strange feeling. You're not necessarily inattentive but you're in a slightly different state.

"I don't think it means you're going to have an accident but it means you're not completely engaged in the task of driving, so we would advise members not to get distracted like this."

So is highway hypnosis dangerous? Well, Stuart Robertson - a hypnotherapist in Edinburgh - told the BBC that, if anything, reaction times are quicker because the sub-conscious is highly engaged with the environment.

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Man sleeps in his car. Credit: PA
Man sleeps in his car. Credit: PA

Not everyone agrees with this thesis, though - Joshua Maxwell, an ergonomics engineer at the Hyundai-Kia Technical Center in Michigan, said that drivers who 'zone out' have slower reaction times.

One thing is for sure, highway hypnosis happens more commonly in tired drivers, which definitely is dangerous.

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Some tips to avoid it happening include having a coffee, talking or singing, rolling down the window, turning off cruise control and putting your seat in an upright position.

Sharing their experiences on the Reddit thread, one person wrote: "Yeah, I used to drive the same 20km (~13mi) stretch to work at 4.30am for years. One day the road was a bit slippery and I slid off the side of a roundabout though, so, that jolted me out of it."

Yeah, we bet.

Frighteningly, another person remembered: "I ran a red light and luckily hit nobody because my brain shut down and went into the highway hypnosis and thought it was green. No cameras so I didn't get ticketed but that would've been the least of possible outcomes."

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Credit: PA
Credit: PA

A driver with a similar story, wrote: "I used to have a 30 minute highway commute for work. One morning, I start out as usual, driving to the on-ramp and heading north. The next thing I know, I'm almost to my exit and I didn't remember the 20 minutes driving in-between.

"I was panicked as hell, I thought I had slept through the whole thing and was amazed that I wasn't dead. I started hyper-caffeinating before my morning drives after that."

Yeah, good idea.

Featured Image Credit: PA

Topics: Driving, Reddit, Weird, Motorway, Health, Cars

Rebecca Shepherd
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