Subconscious Driving

“Highway hypnosis, also known as white line fever, is a mental state in which a person can drive a truck or automobile great distances, responding to external events in the expected manner with no recollection of having consciously done so. In this state, the driver’s conscious mind is apparently fully focused elsewhere, with seemingly direct processing of the masses of information needed to drive safely. Highway hypnosis is just one manifestation of a relatively commonplace experience, where the conscious and unconscious minds appear to concentrate on different things.

“The concept of “highway hypnosis” was first described in a 1921 article that mentioned the phenomenon of “road hypnotism”: driving in a trance-like state while gazing at a fixed point. A 1929 study Sleeping with the Eyes Open by Miles also dealt with the subject, suggesting that it was possible for the motorists to fall asleep with eyes open. The idea that the unaccountable automobile accidents could be explained by this phenomenon became popular in the 1950s.The term “highway hypnosis” was coined by GW Williams in 1963. Building on the theories of Ernest Hilgard that hypnosis is an altered state of awareness, some theorists hold that the consciousness can develop hypnotic dissociation. In the example of highway hypnosis, one stream of consciousness is driving the car while the other stream of consciousness is dealing with other matters. Amnesia can even develop for the dissociated consciousness that drove the automobile. The phenomenon is an example of automaticity in cognitive psychology…” [1]


“It does not take a hypnotist to induce a hypnotic state of mind. In fact, we are all constantly moving in and out of these fluid hypnotic states as we engage in normal daily activities, such as day dreaming, studying, watching television, and even driving our cars. These transitions are so natural that they usually go undetected, except at times when we are startled to discover that we have driven 50 miles past our destination on the freeway.

“Let’s take that driving example further. Think about it for a moment. When you drive, you are in many ways driving subconsciously. If you were to consciously think about all of the dangers associated with your driving, you would immediately stop the car and leap out of the vehicle! Your heart would be pounding fiercely and you would break out in a cold sweat. Driving is the most dangerous activity we engage in, and yet we do it every day, scarcely giving a second thought to the daring high-speed maneuvers we execute in our attempts to be the first to get where we want to go.

“We accomplish this dramatic feat by turning the task of driving over to our subconscious mind and autonomic nervous system. The subconscious is quite skilled at driving, just as it is at walking, swimming, or riding a bike. Once it knows how to do something, it just does it; it doesn’t need to think about it again. When you drive, your subconscious mind handles most of the driving while your conscious mind entertains higher cognitive functions such as contemplating your golf score, anticipating your evening date, or deciding what you will have for dinner.

“This is a natural process that in effect minimizes the dangers of driving on a conscious level so that you can function behind the wheel. It does a fine job. So good, in fact, that many people not only minimize their fear of the danger of driving, but they actually become totally oblivious to those dangers. These people then carelessly speed, tailgate, swerve recklessly in and out of lanes, read, talk on the phone, eat, and even apply makeup while driving. They are totally hypnotized at this point, operating on a purely subconscious level, totally oblivious to the danger that they are creating for others as well as themselves….” [2]

Texts: [1] Highway Hypnosis, Wikipedia. [2] Most People Hypnotized While Driving Their Cars, via 24/7 Press Releases.

Pic: Dennis Hopper, Double Standard. 1961. Gelatin silver print.


9 thoughts on “Subconscious Driving

  1. Pingback: pollyhanigan
  2. Eye tracking data demonstrated significant changes in gaze patterns during phases of subconscious driving and helped identify situations and external factors conducive to the phenomenon.

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