HALLUCINATIONS brought about by driver fatigue are apparently causing many mysterious accidents at night, authorities report. Illustrating the possible effect of driver fatigue is the case of a San Francisco surgeon who was driving to his suburban home after performing an operation that lasted till 5 a.m. Suddenly the doctor saw before him a huge office building. The doctor brought his car to a screeching halt—at what he felt was a few inches from the lobby level of a skyscraper. But when he got out, there was no building at all, only a virtually deserted highway.
“I was immediately aware, of course, that I had been deceived by highway hypnosis,” said the doctor afterward. “The long drive, the late hour and my weariness had set the stage for a mirage. My need for sleep had triggered the hallucination. I could have been killed, or killed the occupants of another car, trying to avoid a building that wasn’t there.”
Because of the danger of such highway hallucinations, some authorities have proposed putting up signs on monotonous stretches of highway to warn drivers: “Danger: Hallucinations Occur Here When You Are Tired!”
But why may a fatigued driver experience hallucinations? The Harvard School of Public Health has stated this possibility: “Subconsciously, an extremely tired driver wants to stop and rest, but his conscious mind makes him continue at the wheel for one reason or another. It is his imagination trying to get him to stop that creates such roadblocks as spectral houses, buildings, windmills, walls and animals. . . . If a driver is really fatigued, he is likely to experience a hallucination. It is his mind’s way of compelling him to stop driving now.”