Highway Hypnosis And How To Avoid It

I’ve logged about 4,000 road miles (all solo) in the last few weeks, most of it in stunningly monotonous landscape. Fortunately, I’ve never fallen asleep at the wheel, but I’ve definitely had to pull over for a power nap on a number of occasions in the past.

What I tend to get is “highway hypnosis,” also known as driving without attention mode (DWAM), or “white line fever (I always thought that was a reference to a different kind of white line, but what do I know?).”

Highway hypnosis is a trance-like mental state brought on by the monotony of the road. In other words, you’re zoning out, and while one part of your brain is still able to operate your car, the other half is in la la land. If you’ve ever driven a stretch of highway and have no memory of it, you’ve had white line fever, baby. The important thing to take away from this is that it’s nearly as dangerous as nodding off at the wheel.

A 2009 survey conducted by the CDC cited that nearly five percent of adults had fallen asleep while driving in the past 30 days. Those are some scary statistics, as are those from a 2007 National Sleep Foundation poll that stated more than one-half of American drivers (at the time, over 100 million people) had driven while drowsy.

Thousands of people die every year due to drowsy-driving and highway hypnosis-related crashes. Some experts claim falling asleep at the wheel is more dangerous than driving while intoxicated, because you have zero reaction time. With highway hypnosis, your reaction time is so compromised, you may as well be asleep.

With Labor Day weekend looming, I thought I’d provide some tips on how to avoid highway hypnosis, and what to do if you need to pull over for some zzz’s, after the jump.Preventing highway hypnosis

  • Listen to music. When I’m getting tired, it has to be loud, fast, and I have specific songs to get me going.
  • Avoid driving at times you’d normally be asleep.
  • Avoid driving on a full stomach. I will attest to the dangers of this. Before driving back from Santa Fe a week ago, I devoured a final carne adovada plate – with posole and a sopapilla – to tide me over until my next New Mexican food fix. I regretted it the second I got behind the wheel, and no amount of caffeine could help.
  • Caffeine, caffeine, and more caffeine, but if it makes you want to jump out of your skin, know when to cut yourself off. An edgy, irritable driver is a danger as well.
  • Roll down the windows for some fresh air.
  • If you have a headset or Bluetooth, call someone to help keep you alert.
  • I play mental games, like testing my memory or recalling conversations.
  • Take regular breaks to stretch your legs.
  • Shift around while driving. I use cruise control so I can bend my right leg, and I also do one-armed stretches and neck stretches.
  • Keep your eyes moving to avoid zoning out. I also keep eye drops on my console because mine get dry on long drives.

Time out

  • If you need to pull over for a power nap at dusk or after dark, don’t choose a rest area (great for pit stops, not exactly known for savory characters, even during daylight hours). Find a well-lighted, busy location, like a gas station, fast food restaurant, or large hotel parking lot if you can swing it. Personally, I avoid stopping at deserted rest areas all together.
  • Keep your cellphone charged and at the ready in case of emergency.
  • Lock all of your doors.
  • Crack a couple of windows, but no more than a few inches.
  • If you’re in the middle of nowhere and just can’t stay awake, you may have no other option than to stop at a pull-out or side road. Just try to avoid this if at all possible and drive to the next exit.
  • Be honest with yourself: if you know a nap isn’t going to cut it, suck it up and get a motel room, campsite, or sleep in your car. Being behind schedule sucks, but being dead: much worse.

[Photo credits: hypnotism, Flickr user elleinad; road, Flickr user Corey Leopold; rockstar, Flickr user wstryder]

Watch this video to learn how peppermint oil and a really bad hairstyle can help keep you alert!

Surrey County mulls livestock to limit public sex

No trip to Surrey County, it seems, is complete without a little outdoor sex. The thrill of pull-your-hair-out-ecstasy intimacy under the stars … or the sun, or a neighbor’s watchful eye … is apparently too enticing to pass up. I’m not sure what makes Surrey such a desirable location, but county residents are looking to change it. More than 300 Puttenham residents have written to the county council that “a field near the Hog’s Back lay-by on the A31 was ‘being used for all kinds of sexual activity night and day’ by doggers.”

The complaints have some legitimacy, as the prime sex spot is visible from the Puttenham Church of England Infant School.

The council won’t shut down the rest area and nearby café, so as not to deprive “legitimate visitors,” but they are ready to deploy an unlikely ally in chasing the doggers away: livestock. The thinking isn’t clear, but it’s seems safe to assume that the presence of bulls would make the spot less attractive to public frolickers.

The locals aren’t buying it. According to the Telegraph:

Speaking about the idea of putting bulls into the field to deter the doggers, Mrs Perkins said: “I have to say that some of the comments from the cabinet were quite frightening, such as the suggestion to put bulls in the field.

“What a ridiculous idea.”

Local Sarah Green, 32, said today: “How the council can sit there with straight faces and suggest putting a herd of bulls in a field to stop people having sex in it is almost too ridiculous to contemplate.

Meanwhile, county council leader Dr. Andrew Povey calls the use of bulls as a solution “viable,” unlike other “mad ideas.”

Since other measures aren’t likely, it appears that this Surrey spot will continue to attract sexual thrill-seekers. My advice: do it at night. There’s a school nearby.

[photo by cyberuly via Flickr]

Rest stop closings: Lack of funds not the only reason

Like Virginia, Georgia is also closing rest stops. The number of closings is not as dramatic as Virginia’s almost half. In Georgia only two are to be closed so far, but they do point to another problem besides budget woes–safety.

Two rest stops on I-85 in Georgia are being closed because of the increased activity in vandalism and drug use at them, particularly at night and on weekends. According to this article in independent mail.com, it’s too hard to maintain these two rest stops to make them safe for motorists.

Considering that rest stops were made to make travel safe for motorists, an unsafe rest stop does not make a lot of sense.

The article also points out what I surmised earlier in the post about the closings in Virginia. The need for rest stops is diminishing because of the number of commercial establishments for people to find a toilet and food elsewhere. The rest stop closings are just another indication of how travel is changing.

Will closing rest stops be a trend?

If you’re driving through Virginia struggling to stay awake or needing some bladder relief, bear in mind that almost half the rest stops are now closed due to budget cuts. Jeremy Korzeniewski pointed that out at Autoblog.

As a person fond of rest stops, I think it’s a darned shame that they’re possibly becoming something of the past. If you know anything about the history of the interstate highway system, you know that rest stops factored into the system’s growth and safety. They helped entice motorists to travel.

Perhaps, Virginia has grown dense enough with commercial businesses that there are enough truck stops, fast food establishments and gas stations with their quick eats that rest stops aren’t so needed.

I know of other states, Ohio being one, where there are enough stretches of highway between toilets that if there wasn’t a rest stop, our son would be making yellow snow in the winter and watering weeds at other times of the year. Of course, if you’re out west there are stretches of highway with not a car in sight. In that case, if you gotta go, you gotta go. For modesty sake, consider the portable toilet..

Catherine wrote about the portable toilet some time ago. Perhaps she saw this day coming.

Here’s another point about those rest stops. What about all those tourist brochures advertising those attractions that only get face time once you cross into a state’s borders? Perhaps McDonald’s and Burger King’s play lands could have racks of brochures for parents and caregivers looking for something to do while their kids are burning off steam.

I’m also wondering about those trucks that make a person nervous every time they weave ever so slightly? What happens if those trucks don’t have adequate places to pull to the side of the road. How much do wrecks cost a state?