Do I have to give up driving now?
At 1 year old my dad placed me on his lap and introduced me to motorized vehicles. It was a simple tractor. It went forward when you pulled a lever, and backward when you pulled the other. I didn’t go very far or fast, but my love for driving was planted.
A few years later I graduated to ATV’s and three-wheelers. The black Honda three-wheeler was my favorite, but I wasn’t allowed to drive it because it was “too fast.” So I settled for the other three-wheeler, a yellow Yamaha. I was 3 years old when I had my first big wreck. Please don’t judge my parents—I was a farm kid and every year I grew unlocked an arsenal of vehicles I could learn to drive. On that day I discovered that if I leaned over and pulled on the thing by my feet I could make the Yamaha go faster. And I loved to go fast.
I must’ve been in third gear by the time I reached the turn at the end of our dirt road. I turned the handles, but the bike went straight. Straight into a ditch. The next moment I smashed my mouth on the cold, unyielding metal and watched the handle bar flip under me. I felt the most pain I’d felt in my little life. I screamed until someone rescued me. The next couple of weeks I looked like I had a bird beak—my lips were swollen past my nose. But no bones were broken and my spirit wasn’t shattered. As soon as I was healed, I begged to get behind the wheel and try again, promising to slow down for turns now.
Ever since then I’ve considered myself a good driver. I’ve never received a ticket (parking tickets don’t count) or caused an accident. But earlier this week I almost killed a motorcyclist.
I was on my way to work, driving down the same stretch of road that I have traveled every weekday since January of 2015. I took a drink from my SMART water bottle (which is larger than the drink holders in most cars). I looked around for a better place to put it—and completely forgot I was driving. When I looked up again, the motorcyclist I had been watching was just behind my bumper, shaking his head. I was shocked at what I’d done.
The blood drained from face. I raised my hand in a tepid wave to acknowledge that I knew I was very much in the wrong. Even though it wasn’t the one I needed, I took the next turn and prayed for his continued safety.
This time the motorcyclist wasn’t hit. But others aren’t so lucky. One of my friends just received a massive settlement from a lady who hit him while he was on his motorcycle. I knew the dangers and I knew that motorcyclist was there. However, my brain was everywhere else.
The scariest part? This isn’t the first time I forgot I was driving. Lately, I’ve pulled into my driveway without remembering a single turn, light, or changing lanes. I thought I was going crazy, but Doctor Google says this is actually a common symptom.
What’s my diagnosis?
Highway hypnosis is “when half of your brain is doing the driving while the other half of your brain is literally zoned out” (source). It happens when you’re tired, and when your brain decides there’s nothing interesting on the commute anymore, so it doesn’t need to actually “see” anymore. My mind became so familiar with the curves of my regular-route that it memorized the turns to get home and checked out.
I had never heard of highway hypnosis. Have you? I’m grateful I’m not crazy! I’ve just lost my interest in driving. But how do I get it back? Should I turn in my license and get a buss-pass or try to carpool? While those are good options, Dr. Google shared some things I can do to keep my independence and not endanger other people.
Call a friend
This suggestion surprised me. Isn’t it bad to talk on the phone while driving? While it’s always better to be entirely focused on the art of driving—no distractions at all—for people with highway hypnosis, talking to someone on a hands-free device can actually be beneficial. It pulls the mind into the moment.
Drop the temp
If the temperature is too close to perfect, my mind feels like I’m nestled under my blanket instead of shooting down the road in a metal casket.
Play loud music
I usually listen to the latest sermon on my morning commute. I learn interesting things. But I might need to stop listening to talk-radio, and turn on my favorite sing-along songs. I butcher the lyrics as much as I miss the high notes, but at least I’m focus on the drive and my surroundings.
I’ve also started to chew gum and count the cars going in the opposite direction of me—anything to draw my attention back to the road.
Driving is thrilling.
Driving is exciting.
Driving is dangerous.
In the US, driving is considered a right. It’s ridiculously easy to get a license, but it’s also easy to end a life on accident. If you’re like me and sometimes don’t remember how you drove yourself someplace, you might have highway hypnosis. Gizmodo shared a story of a teen who would fall asleep instantly, even if the drive was short and he was well rested. After three months of specialized therapy where he would relax, picture driving, then think of something exciting, he can now drive across the state without zoning out.
My highway hypnosis isn’t that bad yet, but it is getting worse. Losing my ability to drive would be like losing a part of myself. Hopefully I can get myself–or rather, my brain back into gear. Or at least care about being in gear again…
Here’s a great song that can help with the driving lull:
(It’s fitting, isn’t it?)
Karianne is the founder of Windmill Ways. She plays the cello professionally and currently works as an Art Director for a charity. Because she loves animated shows and movies, she studies 3D animation and graduated with a BFA with the unfortunate class of 2020. Her dream vacation would be just staying home, but "home" being a glamorous cabin somewhere in the mountains surrounded by forest.
Favorite band: Lord Huron
Favorite book: This Present Darkness
Favorite quote: "Get all the advice and instruction you can, so you will be wise the rest of your life. You can make many plans, but the Lord’s purpose will prevail." Proverbs 19:20-21 (NLT)
Would you like to share your story on Windmill Ways? Apply here.