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Highway hypnosis is a mental state in which the person can drive an 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 subconscious minds appear to concentrate on different things; workers performing simple and repetitive tasks and people deprived of sleep are likely to experience similar symptoms.

In some parts of the Southern United States, the phenomenon is called white-line fever, in reference to the white lines painted on asphalt.

Building on the theories of Ernest Hilgard (1986, 1992) 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 what a cognitive psychologist would call automaticity.

While highway hypnosis may be a common experience, common sense suggests that for maximum safety when driving the full weight of consciousness be brought to bear on the task at hand. The addition of penalty switches on cruise controls could help this.

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  • Weiten, Wayne 2004 (pp 200) Psychology Themes and Variations Sixth Edition Wadsworth/Thomson Learning, Belmont, CA, USA ISBN 0-534-59769-6

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