Don't Catch a Case of White Line Fever

April 26, 2013

Most truckers have experienced it. Traveling down the Interstate, you awake to the reality that you have no recollection of how you got from where you were a hundred miles or so ago to where you are now.

In trucking circles, this apparent lapse of consciousness is called "White Line Fever." Professionals familiar with the condition most often term it "Highway Hypnosis." And while all drivers can experience the condition, long-haul truck drivers are those most prone to it, due to long, monotonous hours traveling the highways.

Highway Hypnosis isn't actually a hypnotic state, it's a dissociative state where the driver is physically present but mentally detached and less than aware of what he/she is doing, according to Kyra Schaefer, C. Ht., a Clinical Hypnotherapist, Hypnosis Certification Trainer and founder of the Arizona Hypnotherapy Clinic and Schaefer Institute of Hypnosis in Phoenix, AZ.

Dissociative experiences normally occur when driving long distances or at highway speeds, driving during sleep hours, or if a driver is under stress or fatigued, she says. Highway hypnosis is not the same as driving while tired. Whereas the body begins to shut down for sleep when tired, with highway hypnosis, the mind can be functional, driving the vehicle, and yet not be aware of the experience when the drive is over. "Highway hypnosis is not the same as daydreaming. When we daydream, we are creating imaginary scenarios with the creative parts of the brain," Schaefer says. "With highway hypnosis, we are performing the task of driving, going through the motions without being aware of those motions."

Several factors can contribute to succumbing to White Line Fever, according to a training module on dealing with Highway Hypnosis developed by the Defense Safety Oversight Council (DSOC). Among them:

  • Boredom: Driving long distances on "ordinary" roads where the scenery changes very little, if at all.
  • Complacency: Confidence in your driving ability can make you less attentive to current details of driving. An undesirable byproduct of confidence in your driving skills is that that confidence can make you less attentive to the "here and now" details of the hazards that surround you now.
  • Daydreaming: Thoughts wander to upcoming activities, past activities anything not directly focused on your current task at hand (note: may be a form of distracted driving.)
  • Speed Control: Driving long distances with no speed variation leads to boredom, which starts the whole cycle over again.
  • Lone Drivers: People traveling alone no one to talk to, etc.
  • Long Distance Drivers: People traveling long distances, concerned with "getting there." These folks tend to focus on the road ahead of them in a tunnel vision type scenario.
  • Fatigued Drivers: People that have been driving a long time in a day. Excess fatigue can cause people to not pay attention to hazards around them while driving.
  • Novice Drivers: New drivers can become so confident in their new skills that they fail to notice riding hazards in the environment around them.

How do you know if you're suffering from White Line Fever? DSOC says to be alert to the following:

  • Driving Without Recall: Arriving someplace and not realizing/remembering the specifics of how you got there. Driving on "auto-pilot" is great in airplanes, but not in big rigs.
  • Near Misses: Finding yourself in a near miss running over the line, or hitting rumble strips could be a sign that you are in a fuzzy state of consciousness.
  • Tunnel Vision: If you are focusing solely on a point at the horizon and you tend to let the surrounding hazards fade away without recognition, then you are most likely experiencing tunnel vision.
  • Muscle Stiffness: Muscle aches and pains are often due to not changing body position, and could be a sign that you are slipping into a state of Highway Hypnosis., an insurance provider, suggests the following steps to take to avoid falling victim to White Line Fever:

  • Get Plenty of Rest: The main reason that drivers' minds tend to wander is fatigue. It is important to get plenty of rest.
  • Avoid Night Driving: It is much easier to drive in the daylight because your body has to work harder to see in the dark. The constant act of focusing on headlights is a leading cause of highway hypnosis.
  • Keep It Cool: Warm temperatures can lure the body into a relaxed state, even sleep. Set the temperature in your cab high enough to where you're comfortable without getting drowsy. In the summer time turn the air conditioner up or open the windows. The constant breeze can help keep you focused and avoid highway hypnosis.
  • Turn Up the Radio: Keep the radio volume loud enough to be a distraction and listen to more upbeat radio stations. Avoid soft music and the droning conversations of talk radio stations. This will help your mind focused.
  • Get Out and Move: One of the biggest mistakes many drivers make is trying to hold out until they need a fuel stop before they take a break. Sitting in the same position for too long can cause undo strain on your body and is a huge contributor to fatigue and highway hypnosis. Try to get out at least every hundred miles or so and stretch your legs for a minute or two.
  • Straighten Up: Bad posture can lead to fatigue and highway hypnosis very quickly. Keep your legs straight and at a 45-degree angle. Sit with your head erect and your shoulders back and place your buttocks tight against the seat.
  • Change the View: Driving long distances can be monotonous enough on its own. It is important to keep your eyes moving at all times. Staring down the center of your highway lane is the definition of White Line Fever and should be avoided at all times. Watch the exit signs, glance at billboards from time to time and check your mirrors frequently to keep your eyes from getting fatigued.
  • Switch Your Focus: Another great way to fight highway hypnosis is to keep busy with activities that will not draw your attention from the road. Take a drink of soda, stretch your legs, chew some gum and sing along with the radio. Little things like this will help keep your mind active, especially when the road is long.
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