White Line Fever, or Highway Hypnosis, is a type of trance that drivers can experience after driving for long periods of time. Drivers most often describe the sensation as getting into their car to head home and suddenly realizing that they made it home without recollection of the time passing during the journey.

Highway Hypnosis Explained

Highway Hypnosis is similar to a trance-like state. Drivers enter this state when their navigate function goes into “auto-pilot.” Highway Hypnosis occurs when someone drives the same route routinely, and the road is unchanging. It is sometimes called White Line Fever because the white line on the highway can induce drivers into a trance-like state.

While in this state, drivers may not recall signaling, turning, or even braking. The hypnosis can last minutes or even an entire night of driving – it depends on the circumstances and the driver. While in this state, the brain is not as active as normal and reaction time is slowed. The risk of getting into an accident is increased.

Causes of Highway Hypnosis

Highway hypnosis occurs because of the way human brains process information and learn. The brain continually refines its functions to create “automatic” processes. The brain does this because not every decision can or should go through conscious deliberation. For example, if a person is thirsty and in a safe environment, they should get a drink of water. The person won’t deliberate or think about it – they will do it. This process frees the brain up to focus on other, novel problems.

Driving is no different than any other daily function. When driving is new, the driver is acutely aware of the brakes, of every car on the road, traffic lights, pedestrians, and other stimuli. However, the more practice the driver gets, the more at-risk they are of sidelining some driving into these automatic processes. Most drivers spend hundreds of hours per year on the road. After a while, parts of operating a vehicle become automatic. The more a person drives, the more at-risk they are of entering this trance-like state.

Some jurisdictions consider highway hypnosis a form of distracted driving. Highway hypnosis is similar to drowsy driving because the same reaction time and deliberation functions are impaired. However, highway hypnosis, unlike drowsy driving, can occur whether the driver is awake or tired.