Zoning out behind the wheel is a trance-like state that could happen to any driver on the road. People may commonly relate this state to driving at night. Yet, as surprising as it may sound, highway hypnosis can occur even when you are driving during normal daytime hours. So what exactly is this phenomenon, what causes it and why is it so dangerous?
Have you ever been driving for a distance only to “wake up” and realize your surroundings are unfamiliar? Or maybe you simply do not remember what has happened on the road for the last few miles. These are classic signs you may have zoned out for a few minutes or longer.
Schmidt Kramer discusses zoning out on the road and how it can cause a dangerous crash. We also give some tips to help you prevent this from happening.
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What is Zoning Out And How Does it Happen While Driving?
You can zone out anywhere, even when you are not on the road. Think about times you got lost in thought while riding in a car as a passenger. You can enter this trance-like state as a driver too, whether you are several hours into a monotonous road trip or traveling the last few minutes of a very familiar route.
This phenomenon is also appropriately called highway hypnosis and white-line fever. Many drivers think zoning out is caused by being overly tired or fatigued. And while being exhausted can certainly contribute to a driver being more likely to zone out, it is not the same thing.
Drivers may zone out or experience highway hypnosis for many different reasons, such as:
- Reacting to the headlights of oncoming vehicles at night
- Becoming hypnotized by the white center line on long stretches of empty highways
- Driving the same commute to and from work every day
- Getting lost in thought over stress from home, work or other relationships
- Mentally relaxing after a strenuous workout in the gym
- Being hungover from a party earlier that night or the day before
- Getting behind the wheel while groggy, drowsy or overly tired
It is important to point out that even drivers who feel alert and awake when they get behind the wheel can be susceptible to zoning out.
Why Is Zoning Out Behind the Wheel Dangerous?
As a driver, if you are not fully focused on the road at all times, you are at risk for a crash. If you are zoned out, fatigued, driving while impaired or distracted by other things, your risk of being involved in or causing a crash is much greater.
In short, zoning out is a form of cognitive distraction, which means you are no longer aware of your surroundings. Driving requires your full attention and focus on the road at all times. That is the legal duty you owe to yourself and to others sharing the road.
Zoning out behind the wheel for even a few minutes or miles means, whether on a highway or residential road, you could miss common driving hazards, such as:
- Vehicles in front of you suddenly slamming on their brakes when approaching a traffic jam
- A car dangerously cutting in front of you that you are unable to avoid because you were not paying attention
- Being unable to avoid hitting a child suddenly darting into a residential road while playing
- Pedestrians crossing the road or cyclists riding around your vehicle
- Driving through a red light or stop sign you failed to notice while zoned out
- Entering an on-ramp or one-way road of oncoming vehicles
- Drifting out of your traffic lane and hitting a vehicle in the lane next to you
There are numerous other ways zoning out could lead to a dangerous crash in Pennsylvania. This trance-like state increases the risk of a severe crash like many other types of driver error and negligence. If it happens, and you were the one zoning out, you are likely to be held fully liable.
How Do Drivers Know If They Are at Risk of Zoning Out?
Being tired is certainly one big contributing factor. However, other things can increase your risk of highway hypnosis as well.
Driving Longer Days or Odd Hours
Driving during the winter season when you are more likely to be driving home from work at night could make you more susceptible to zoning out behind the wheel.
Not Feeling Refreshed After Sleeping
People who have sleep apnea or do not feel refreshed after a night of sleep, such as if they are hungover or simply did not sleep well.
However, beyond being fatigued, being a shift worker and driving long hours at night, you could be susceptible any time, even if you are not tired. Truck drivers are especially vulnerable to zoning out behind the wheel or even nodding off.
Difficulties Focusing During the Day
Some early warning signs could be if you have been daydreaming or unable to focus a lot during the day. Perhaps this is because of a relationship problem or something else that is bothering you. Maybe you are a creative person and you are mentally developing an idea. Doing this while driving is not recommended, however.
Other warning signs could be if you feel foggy-headed or you are having difficulties focusing on anything. Maybe there are atypical situations making it harder to concentrate, such as if you are taking some over-the-counter allergy medications.
Some people, unfortunately, are prone to zoning out. So what can you do if you find yourself in this situation?
What Can You Do to Avoid or Prevent Zoning Out Behind the Wheel?
Preventing highway hypnosis, zoning out or any type of cognitive distraction requires taking a few simple steps, such as:
- Being aware of your state of mind before you get behind the wheel – if you are already unfocused, feeling foggy-headed, tired or unwell, you should probably not drive.
- Giving full priority to getting a proper night’s sleep – if you are having trouble sleeping or consistently wake up feeling unrefreshed, you may want to see your doctor.
- On road trips, take frequent breaks, avoid traveling at night and, if you are not alone, let someone else take over driving.
- Driving home from work, train your mind to avoid wandering off, thinking about problems at home or work and focus all your energy on the road.
- Eat at regular intervals throughout the day and stay hydrated
- Become aware and avoid things that make you zone out on the road, such as long stretches of highway. You could take a route that is more residential, for instance.
If you find you are often struggling with zoning out behind the wheel, you should consider seeing your doctor as there may be a medical reason for it. For instance, you may be suffering from sleep apnea and not even realize it. Another issue could be some medication you are taking that is making you feel too relaxed or sleepy.
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