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Study on preventing highway hypnosis will begin in a few weeks

There's been a lot of hubbub over distracted driving in the last several years. The federal government and automotive manufacturers are all working hard to help keep drivers paying attention to the task at hand while cruising the streets and highways of our nation. Distracted driving can be attributed to a number of the highway fatalities around the country each year.

While distracted driving typically focuses on things like smartphones while driving, those aren't the only things to be concerned about when behind the wheel. The Hyundai-Kia Technical Center and the University of Michigan have announced they have teamed up to fight another problem facing drivers that they call highway hypnosis. Highway hypnosis is when a driver begins to "zone out" and their reaction time slows.

"About one hour into a long drive, typically on a highway with a straightaway, you start zoning out and your reaction time slows down," said Joshua Maxwell, an ergonomics engineer at Hyundai-Kia Technical Center, in explaining this latest element of distracted driving to Edmundson Monday. "Your brain goes into an auto-pilot phase."

We'd wager just about every driver has experienced this phenomenon when you realize you have traveled many miles with little recollection of actually having done so.
Both Kia and Hyundai plan to work on warning systems to help prevent highway hypnosis and are planning to begin a study in the next few weeks using volunteer students on ways to prevent the phenomenon. Engineers working on the study plan to measure brainwave activity using EEG sensors to help determine the early onset of driver drowsiness.

Engineers participating in the study haven't come up with a specific warning system for vehicles yet to help reduce highway hypnosis and say that it could be visual, audio, or haptic system.

Maxwell said, "It [warning system] could be visual, audio or haptic. It might be the coffee cup icon, which is familiar to most people (as a drowsy-driving alert)."

Source: Edmunds

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Pretty common I think.
By Brandon Hill (blog) on 8/29/2013 11:01:00 AM , Rating: 2
I can say that this has happened to me on numerous occasions. It's happened to me on long stretches of backroads, but more frequently on long stretches of interstate (especially on I-85 between Greensboro and Salisbury).

I'll just simply zone and out not have any recollection of that last few miles. It's unsettling quite frankly.

RE: Pretty common I think.
By spamreader1 on 8/29/2013 11:33:57 AM , Rating: 2
I only have this issue occur when I go to work. Long trips, I'm good. I wonder how much of the repitition factor comes into play.

When I used to drive 60-70,000 miles a year I never had this problem at all. I was also a good bit younger, and every day was different locations.

By Brandon Hill (blog) on 8/29/2013 11:46:55 AM , Rating: 2
Repetition plays a big factor (for me). On the aforementioned stretch of I-85, it's three lanes, 70 mph speed limit, and the traffic just flows freely. It's mostly straight with no change of scenery.

I set the cruise control at 77 mph and boom, where'd the last 20 minutes go :)

RE: Pretty common I think.
By Piiman on 8/31/2013 12:33:59 PM , Rating: 2
You just think you're ok on long trips because you're hypnotized. ;-)

RE: Pretty common I think.
By Schrag4 on 8/29/2013 12:39:12 PM , Rating: 2
I'm not convinced that you truly "zone out." It could be that your brain simply doesn't think that very much of the repetitive, non-eventful driving was worth recording. In hindsight it seems that you zoned out because you have no memory, but while it's happening you're likely fully aware. Once something worth noting happens, your brain decides to start recording again, and in hindsight that's when you "woke up."

It's the opposite of what happens when you encounter a life-threatening event. Time doesn't really slow down to where you can really act faster than normal, rather your brain just records the event much more densely than normal, so in hindsight it seems like time slowed down and you were more aware. You really weren't more aware at any given moment, it's just that more of those details were committed to memory.

Just a theory.

RE: Pretty common I think.
By bah12 on 8/29/2013 1:06:06 PM , Rating: 2
Someone's been watching too much Brain Games :)

RE: Pretty common I think.
By Schrag4 on 8/29/2013 6:38:39 PM , Rating: 2
I actually don't know what you're referring to.

Just because you can't recall the last 2 miles doesn't mean you weren't completely aware during those 2 miles, it just means you can't remember. If you've driven those 2 miles literally a thousand times and it's not different this time, why should your memory store yet another identical copy?

If people really did "zone out" on their way to or from work, they'd almost never make it home without some kind of accident. It always seems scary to think that you can't remember the last few miles, and I find it especially scary when I approach a cyclist and realize that had I not "snapped out of it" I would have hit them. Doesn't it make more sense that I just wasn't storing anything to memory until I came across something that was worth noting? Otherwise, shouldn't I have run down dozens of cyclists by now? I bet most of the car/cyclist accidents can be attributed to some other distraction, such as texting, not this so-called "zoning out."

Although I think a warning to wake up sleepy drivers is a great thing, I don't know that I'd want any kind of distractions if I'm in "the zone" while I'm driving.

RE: Pretty common I think.
By bah12 on 8/30/2013 9:43:30 AM , Rating: 2
It's a show on Discovery, and I highly recommend it. All about how the brain works, and touches on your point exactly. Most people view themselves as multi-taskers, and completely aware of their surroundings. The truth is our brain filters and assumes a lot. We have extremely sharp, but even more extremely focused attention. Something happening outside of the Zone is a very real danger. Zoning out is just another example of that, our brain making a decision that something is less important and we lose focus.

IMO you are slightly incorrect in your conclusion that you might be just as aware. Some of your actions your brain is just doing for you and not committing to memory. However it is also making a great deal of assumptions, and a very large percentage of those are wildly incorrect. So as long as you pass the cyclist and everything goes just like it did the last 10,000 times you did it, no problem. But if the cyclist jerks to the side, in this state your reaction time may be hampered if your brain didn't make the correct assumption that he could do that.

RE: Pretty common I think.
By Schrag4 on 8/30/2013 12:36:30 PM , Rating: 2
A good show on Discovery, huh? I'll have to look for it. I used to stop on Discovery and TLC but lately they've turned from educational to non-stop "reality" programming, and they're not even family friendly anymore. Sad, really.

RE: Pretty common I think.
By TheEinstein on 8/30/2013 11:10:12 AM , Rating: 2
I drive 150,000 miles a year.

I do not see this being a big issue. There is no reason for me to know the last 100 miles if there was no weigh scale, no bad terrain, no cops, nothing of interest... righther3 and now thelast 300 miles... I Remember a border crossing, a rest and this truck stop. Oh and I remember an hour of fog.

Nothing to see here, move along!

RE: Pretty common I think.
By XZerg on 8/29/2013 1:50:59 PM , Rating: 2
It happens to me and it gets to the point that it makes you sleepy. What I have found that this happens the most in no traffic areas where your brain has almost no activity to perform aside from staring blankly at an empty dark road. It's mind-numbing and dangerous.

RE: Pretty common I think.
By Captain Awesome on 8/29/2013 4:03:49 PM , Rating: 2
You can fight off the drowsiness using a technique I just made up called "music ADD', where you are constantly changing radio stations and switching to and from your mp3 cd.

You won't remember the last few miles of identical scenery, but you'll remember the last few songs.

RE: Pretty common I think.
By Omega215D on 8/30/2013 6:14:31 PM , Rating: 2
This never happens to me on my motorcycle on the super slab. In an automatic transmission car yes, manual transmission, usually no unless on a long stretch of super slab with very little traffic. Super smooth cars can also give me some problems so I hate any vehicle that dampens too much of the vibes from the engine.

I also have the tendency to avoid large interstates and use smaller I roads or back roads with decent curves. It's just more scenic that way.

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