- Does Fear of Driving limit you? How to get back on the road
- Fear of Panic Attacks
- How They Drive
- Fear of Driving as Performance Anxiety
- When is the Fear of Driving a useful signal?
- What You Need
- Try this Free Chapter From my Workbook
- Overcoming the Fear of Driving
- Getting Past the Anxiety
- Now available! Recorded ADAA webinar presented by Ken Goodman – Overcoming the Fear of Driving (July 12, 2018).
- Top 10 Things Nobody Tells You About Living With Freeway Phobia
- Top 10 Things Nobody Tells You About Freeway Phobia
- Top Treatment Options for Freeway Phobia
- How to Get Over the Fear of Driving in 6 Key Steps
- Driving should be something that you enjoy doing, and not something to fear. You can overcome your fear of driving easily by trying any of the above tips
- Hypnosis Articles
- Driving Anxiety Symptoms
- Driving Anxiety Tips
- Driving Phobia: An Ideal Treatment
- What Is the Fear of Driving and Do You Have It?
Does Fear of Driving limit you? How to get back on the road
Fear of driving is a common and troubling problem, but it's a problem you can solve. The first step is to identify the specific nature of your driving fear.
Fear of Panic Attacks
People who experience panic attacks are often afraid of having one at the wheel. They're licensed to drive and generally have a good driving record. They probably drove without any problems, maybe for years, until they started having panic attacks, and then they became afraid.
Their fear isn't really about driving. It's about panic attacks while driving. They worry that they won't drive safely during a panic attack, and that they won't be able to flee the scene as quickly as they want.
How They Drive
They often still do some driving, by limiting where and when they drive. They avoid highways. They stay in the right lane, where it's easier to pull off the road.
They avoid bridges, tunnels, and any other road conditions which limit their ability to leave the scene as quickly as they wish, in the event of a panic attack.
They avoid left turns, unless there's a traffic signal with a turn arrow, because they fear getting “trapped” in the intersection. They avoid driving at rush hour.
They also use distraction and various safety objects. They may sing, or call people on their cell phones, to distract themselves from the thoughts of a panic attack. They may drink from a water bottle, and feel reassured by this. They may only drive when accompanied by a “safe” person.
Fear of Driving as Performance Anxiety
People who experience this type of driving fear learned to drive and received their license, but they often didn't get much experience after that, and lack confidence in their driving ability. Un the first group, they probably don't experience panic attacks outside the driving situation.
They may worry about accidents, but also worry that they'll drive so poorly that they'll attract negative attention, and worry further that this negative attention will make them even more afraid.
With this type of driving phobia, you worry that you'll drive too slowly, or that you won't move quickly enough when the light turns green.
You fear that the driver behind you will get impatient and honk his horn.
You also worry that you'll become more anxious when this happens, maybe so much that you stall the car, or make some other mistake. In your mind, this will quickly turn to a terrible scene of hopelessly snarled traffic, the loud din of horns honking, and a large crowd watching you fall apart behind the wheel as paramedics and policemen rush to your vehicle.
When is the Fear of Driving
a useful signal?
You might suppose there would be a third group of people with driving phobia. These would be people who drive so poorly that they have a history of accidents and traffic tickets. However, this is not really a phobia. A phobia is an irrational fear. If you are a reckless or incompetent driver, it's good to avoid driving until you get some retraining.
In my experience, however, the people who have come to me for help with a fear of driving fall into one of the two categories listed above. They don't have an actual history of harmful results from their driving. They just worry about that.
What You Need
If your fear of driving is mostly about panic attacks, the way to solve this problem is to learn how to better handle panic attacks.
If you have panic attacks in situations other than driving, it might help to start with a situation in which your role is more passive – perhaps waiting in a long line, or walking through a crowded mall.
You can then work with driving after you've made progress in the more passive role first.
If your fear is more the performance anxiety described above, you need a similar progressive practice with driving in which you can practice accepting your fearful thoughts and feelings while doing the work of driving.
You can use the same techniques as the person with panic attacks, because the underlying fear, of becoming so afraid as to be unable to drive, is similar to the fear of losing control to a panic attack.
The main difference in the thoughts with performance anxiety is the extent to which you worry that others are watching, and judging, you.
Try this Free Chapter
From my Workbook
My Panic Attacks Workbook has a chapter devoted to the fear of driving.
Want to read it? You can download a free copy for your own personal use.
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Overcoming the Fear of Driving
Here is a list of the top 5 driving fears:
1. Past negative experiences
Car accidents are the most common negative driving experience; and can be the most horrific, but there are others.
Driving through a bad storm, being a victim of road rage, getting lost, or having a panic attack can all be traumatic. You may replay the experience in your mind and worry it will happen again.
The repetitive thoughts and fears may then cause the person to avoid driving, only making the anxiety worse.
2. Driving outside of one’s comfort zone… alone
For some driving phobics, driving to a familiar location is no big deal. But give them directions to a new location, near or far, and their anxiety goes through the sunroof.
What if I get lost? What if my car runs gas? What if my cell phone gets no reception? What if I can’t find a parking spot?
It is not just the fear that something bad will happen, it is the fear that something bad will happen in an unfamiliar place, far from home, and no one will be there to help.
3. Fear of having symptoms of anxiety and being trapped
Being stuck in traffic is an irritant no one s, but if you have a fear of panic attacks traffic can be a terrifying experience. People with a history of panic attacks tend to avoid situations where they can’t get out quickly, including freeways and left turn lanes.
What if I’m stuck traffic and have a panic attack!
Anxiety targets certain organs in the body. While some may experience racing heart and difficulty breathing, others experience diarrhea, lightheadedness or nausea. The mere thought of having these symptoms and being stuck in traffic, results in more anxiety and more avoidance.
4. Fear of going too fast and losing control
Feeling the wrath of other drivers for going too slow on the highway, there is pressure to accelerate, but your mind and body won’t let you. Clinching the steering wheel for dear life, your heart races and your body sweats.
The control physical symptoms of anxiety make it impossible to trust yourself to drive safely.
The fear of losing control and swerving into another lane is enough to make you drive on surface streets even if takes longer to arrive at your destination.
5. Fear of Fatalities
The basis of all anxiety is an exaggeration of danger and an underestimation of one’s ability. Fearful drivers might not trust their own ability or lack faith in other’s.
Either way, they imagine the worst repeatedly. The active imagination of the driving phobic can result in the most gruesome car crashes… in their mind.
You don’t have to be a victim of a previous car accident to imagine being in one.
Getting Past the Anxiety
Conquering the fear of driving IS possible but it usually requires help. The gold standard for treatment of any anxiety disorder is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT).
The first step is to identify your specific fear from the list above.
Then write down all the reasons you want to conquer the fear – why it’s so important. Overcoming any fear means you must face it, which requires a great deal of motivation.
A CBT therapist will help you deal with the thoughts that are causing your physical symptoms and teach you skills to relax your body and quiet your mind. The therapist will also explain the mindset required to face a fear.
Fear of driving affects all aspects of one’s life, from personal to professional. Overcoming this type of anxiety with a qualified professional, will take work and bravery, but it’s well worth, it in the end!
Now available! Recorded ADAA webinar presented by Ken Goodman – Overcoming the Fear of Driving (July 12, 2018).
About the Author
Ken Goodman, LCSW, treats anxiety and OCD in Los Angeles. He is the author of The Anxiety Solution Series, a step-by-step audio program, and Break Free from Anxiety, a coloring, self-help book for anxiety sufferers. Ken Goodman is an ADAA Clinical Fellow.
Ken is the producer of The Anxiety Solution Series: Your Guide to Overcoming Panic, Worry, Compulsions and Fear, a step-by-step self-help audio program. Visit Ken's website.
Top 10 Things Nobody Tells You About Living With Freeway Phobia
I dis freeways. Unless it’s an Interstate freeway with no other vehicles around, with the windows rolled down, the music blasting, and me singing along in a very off-key voice at the top of my lungs, I’d be perfectly happy to never see another freeway again as long as I live. Believe it or not, my attitude about freeways has actually improved – a lot – over the last few years.
I know I just said I dis freeways. But I used to hate them. Hate. Them.
They were the bane of my existence. I lived with an intense, daily dread of freeways and nervously counted the hours until I would have to face one again.
I lived in the Bay Area in California at the time, and avoiding freeways was nearly impossible, especially considering I was a single dad raising two kids on my own. Try raising children in the Bay Area without driving on a freeway.
I suppose it can be done, but you’d have little time to accomplish anything else.
I was suffering from freeway phobia. A phobia is defined as a pervasive, irrational fear of a situation or object. The phobia sufferer’s fear is so intense, he or she will go to extreme lengths to avoid said object or situation. Approximately 10% of the US population lives with at least one phobia, and that estimate is probably low.
Some phobias are easier to live with than others. If you have an irrational fear of clowns (coulrophobia) say, you can manage that phobia fairly easily.
Because, how often does the average person come into contact with clowns, really? Not very often.
But as a person living in a densely populated urban area connected by freeways, avoiding the source of my phobia wasn’t really an option for me. I had to learn how to cope with my fears.
I’ll talk about how I did that a little later on. But for now, let’s take a look at the top 10 things nobody tells you about living with freeway phobia. I wish someone had told me these things. It might have prompted me to get help for my phobia much sooner than I did.
Top 10 Things Nobody Tells You About Freeway Phobia
- It’s a widespread problem that no one talks about – An estimated 40 million American adults have an anxiety disorder. Driving anxiety is a huge problem for millions of people, yet there’s very little information available that’s reliable.
My work with sufferers of driving anxiety over the years has taught me that fear of freeway driving is the number one issue anxious drivers face.
- It makes it hard to get places – Freeways are an unavoidable part of the driving experience for many people. Try living in almost any large urban area without driving on freeways.
It’s difficult, if not downright impossible, to do.
- It eats into your time – Freeways are often the fastest route between point A and point B. That’s kind of the whole point of freeways. Driving secondary roads with more stop signs and traffic lights can slow your forward progress to a crawl. Many people simply don’t have the time not to take the freeway.
- Most people don’t get what you’re so scared of – Granted, no one s freeway driving, especially in heavy traffic. But most people accept it as a necessary, albeit annoying, part of daily living. Having panic attacks because of the freeway is not something most people know how to relate to.
- Freeway phobia is hard on your relationships – The limited mobility that tends to accompany freeway phobia can severely limit your ability to participate in social gatherings and maintain a healthy social life.
- It can make other anxiety issues worse – People with driving anxiety usually struggle with other anxiety disorders , social anxiety or panic attacks. Freeway phobia can exacerbate these other issues and make them worse.
- You live in constant dread – You think forward to the times you’ll have to face the freeway with dread.
You obsess over it, and the thought of it hangs over you a dark cloud.
- You fear having a panic attack on the freeway – One of the biggest fears people have on the freeway is that they’ll have a panic attack and either hurt or kill someone. This very rarely happens, but the anticipation of a panic attack makes many avoid the freeway altogether.
- Freeway phobia can be difficult to treat – Successful treatment requires you to face your fears and do at least some freeway driving. There is no overnight cure for freeway phobia. It takes work and commitment.
- It gets worse the longer it goes untreated – all phobias, the longer freeway phobia goes untreated, the worse it gets, which makes treating it successfully that much harder.
Top Treatment Options for Freeway Phobia
I have good news and bad news.
The good news is, freeway phobia is highly treatable. I myself have mostly overcome my own fear of the freeway. I still don’t it, but I don’t avoid it either.
The bad news is, there’s really no way to overcome freeway phobia except by continuing to drive on freeways. Phobias are only defeated by facing them and taking away their power over your mind.
Fortunately, you don’t have to face your freeway phobia alone. There are several effective treatment options that are widely available, including:
- Exposure Therapy – The primary fear with freeways is becoming trapped with no way out and no way to get help. Freeway phobia is really a manifestation of agoraphobia. Exposure therapy means just what it sounds it means. With the help of a therapist, you gradually increase your time on the freeway, exposing yourself to your fears until they subside. You’ll find that you won’t, in fact, lose control or become trapped with no way out.
- Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) – CBT helps you identify distortions in your thinking about freeway driving. Phobias are generally irrational in nature. CBT helps you identify irrational thinking and provides concrete steps to correct it.
- Take a Defensive Driving Course – There are many books, DVDs, and online courses that teach defensive driving to improve your driving skills. Search Amazon for ideas. You can also contact your local DMV for suggestions about finding the right driving course for you.
- Hire a Driving Coach – If a self-help driving course isn’t enough, you may need an experienced driving instructor to actually be in the car with you to conquer your freeway phobia. Here’s an inspiring story about a woman who did just that.
Freeway phobia can severely restrict your life. But it is treatable. I treated mine with a combination of meditation, hypnosis, and CBT. I even developed a course for driving anxiety called Driving Peace to help teach other people with freeway phobia how to face their fears and take back control of their lives.
And I’m nobody special. If I can do it, anyone can.
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Author Bio: Greg Weber is the creator of Driving Peace, an easy-to-use program of very simple techniques to end driving anxiety, also known as driving phobia and fear of driving.
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The opinions and views expressed in this guest blog do not necessarily reflect those of www.rtor.org or its sponsor, Laurel House, Inc. The author and www.rtor.org have no affiliations with any products or services mentioned in this article or linked to herein.
How to Get Over the Fear of Driving in 6 Key Steps
As exciting it can be for someone to be getting a driver’s license, the thought of actually getting out on the road can be pretty terrifying for some people, especially new drivers.
With this system, drivers are not allowed to be driving without another fully licensed driver in the vehicle for a certain period of time. This gives them the chance to get used to driving and know that they have an experienced driver with them if anything were to happen.
If you find that you are nervous when you are driving, it may not be that you are nervous about the actual driving, but that you are nervous about driving when you are alone.
For the first few weeks, or even months, after you are fully licensed, if you are still afraid of driving, try to take short trips with someone else in the vehicle with you.
This person does not necessarily have to be another licensed driver, just someone to help keep you relaxed.
Once you are more used to driving, you can start taking short trips by yourself, and in no time at all, you will have gotten over your fears, and you will not need to have someone with you whenever you go anywhere.
One of the main reasons why people are afraid to drive is because they are new drivers, and they are unsure of their driving skills. This is a really good reason to take a driver’s training course.
Some schools use virtual reality glasses to build confidence
These courses teach people most of the things they need to know to be good drivers, and students get actual driving time, so they can get some experience being behind the wheel, while backed up by a professional instructor sitting beside them.
Once you have had driver’s training, you will find that you do not have the same fears that you once did, because you know how to be prepared for every situation that can pop up when you are on the roads.
If you are a new driver and you are nervous, or even if you are an experienced driver who is nervous, it is a good idea to try not to drive anywhere at night if you can avoid it. You have more to worry about at night because people, animals and other vehicles are much more difficult to see than in the daylight.
Study by Forbes.com
It is best to stick with day time driving, at least in the beginning, until you are more used to driving by yourself. Once you have gotten over your fears of driving during the day time, then you can start to conquer your fear of night driving.
You have probably heard the old saying about how if you fall off a horse, you should get right back on that horse. There is a really good reason for this saying, and it is one that holds true for pretty much everything we do in life, including driving automobiles.
Many people find that after having an automobile accident, they are terrified to get back in the car and drive anywhere by themselves ever again. This is not a good way to be. It is always good to make sure that you have an up-to-date driver’s license, and that you stay in practice, because you never know when you are going to have to drive somewhere in an emergency.
If you are in an accident, don’t hesitate to get back in your vehicle and start driving right away, or at least as soon as your vehicle is drivable again. The longer you wait, the harder it is going to be for you to lose your fears. If you get right back at it, you will find that in no time at all, you will not have any fears, and you will enjoy driving once again.
Many people find that even if they are not afraid of driving on local roads, they are absolutely terrified to drive on highways, especially multiple lane highways.
Yes, this can be pretty scary, especially if you are a new driver, but this is a fear that every driver must eventually overcome.
It is best to start out by driving on lesser used highways, and those that are not multi-lane.
Choose smaller highways at less busy time of the day
Once you are used to the quieter highways, then you can start to venture out onto the busier ones. After a while, driving on highways will seem old-hand, and you will have no worries at all.
When you were taking your driver’s training classes, you were probably told that music is a big distraction, and that you should not bother having the stereo on when you are driving. This is not exactly true.
Yes, music can be a huge distraction, but only if you are letting the music distract you, and you are listening to it at high volumes. If you are listening to relaxing music at a low volume, it will help to keep you relaxed while you are driving.
It really is true; music really does soothe the savage beast.
If you have a fear of driving, it is something that you will need to work hard to overcome. For some people, it is simply a matter of getting more experience behind the wheel. For others, the fear can be so bad that they need to get counseling to figure out why they are so afraid and learn how to deal with it.
Driving should be something that you enjoy doing, and not something to fear. You can overcome your fear of driving easily by trying any of the above tips
You can also speak with driving instructors to see if they have any tips to offer you.
Date Published: Fri, Dec 7, 2012
Date Modified: Wed, Jan 30, 2019
Publisher: Hypnosis Motivation Institute
Driving anxiety is a very common form of anxiety that can range in severity from a hesitation to drive, where anxiety is always present, all the way up to a total refusal to drive at all, in which case it becomes driving phobia. A phobia is a fear that is paralyzing but irrational. Driving phobia is one of the most common phobias.
Driving phobia is a form of agoraphobia, literally defined as is the fear of open spaces. But it's not the fear of open spaces that scares people, it's the fear of loss of control.
People with a driving phobia fear being trapped in a traffic jam and unable to escape if they experience a panic attack, wise, they also fear passing out, losing control of the vehicle, throwing up or getting into an accident.
For many people, driving next to big trucks can be very nerve racking, as can be merging on the freeway or driving in the fast lane.
Driving Anxiety Symptoms
Symptoms of driving anxiety or phobia are similar to those of most other forms of anxiety: heart palpitations, perspiring and sweaty palms, disorientation, confusion, dizziness, dry mouth and shortness of breath. This is the classic “fight or flight response”.
Sometimes people feel that they are going to die or go crazy. This can be really scary and people will avoid driving to avoid these kind of intense feelings.
Of course, these are just feelings and even the most severe panic attacks don't cause any long term ill effects.
Obviously, this can seriously impact a person's ability to function on a daily basis if they need to drive to work or drive for a living, especially here in Southern California where driving is necessary to get anywhere fast.
Driving anxiety can start in many ways. Usually a person has experienced an incident such as a car accident or “close call” and that memory is still causing the subconscious mind to be protective. Sometimes, although not often, this kind of anxiety can show up seemingly the blue. If you are a person that is prone to anxiety or fear, then driving may just be one place where this shows up.
In addition, episodes of low blood sugar can create anxiety which can become associated with driving, if you happen to be driving when the low blood sugar takes place. Low blood sugar can be caused from not eating or after eating a meal high in simple carbs or sugar. This is especially true for those that have family histories of diabetes or hypoglycemia.
Driving anxiety can turn into a phobia though avoidance.
In other words, of you have some fear of driving and you decide to stop altogether, it becomes a full blown phobia and the more you avoid it, the harder it is to get back in the saddle, so to speak.
The good news is, fear of driving is a learned behavior. If you have ever felt comfortable driving, then that is something you learned, so if you are uncomfortable now, you can relearn how to be comfortable again.
Driving Anxiety Tips
Here are some tips to help you get back on the road feeling safe and comfortable and confident. If you are currently not driving due to fear, I highly recommend that you seek help as many have been able to resume driving with the help of a good Therapist or Hypnotherapist.
- The basics: Avoid driving on an empty stomach. Pay attention to how you feel after eating certain foods, especially those high in sugar or simple carbs (bread, pastries, soft drinks). Drinking alcohol the night before can also trigger blood sugar imbalances. Also, if you are driving while sleep deprived, you are asking for trouble. Start by taking care of yourself.
- Caffeine: is a known trigger for anxiety. Some of my clients have felt a marked relief in anxiety just by cutting back on caffeinated beverages.
- Consider car pooling: If you are engaged in conversation you are less liable to think anxious thoughts. You also have to drive half as much. Think this one over carefully, as some people are more distracted while conversing while driving.
- Manage your stress: A common cause for anxiety is extended periods of overwhelming stress. Do what you can to lower your stress level: exercise, take more breaks, meditation, yoga, etc.
- Affirmations: Hand write, in script, some positive affirmation about your ability to drive calm, comfortable and relaxed. For example “I'm calm, comfortable and relaxed while driving and enjoying listening to music (the radio, audio books, etc.)” Read them right before you go to bed and right after you wake up. Say them out loud and imagine yourself driving while feeling calm and relaxed. Don't underestimate the power of this simple exercise.
- What really stops most people is the anticipatory anxiety: “Oh my God, I need to drive tomorrow out to the west side. I just know this is going to cause me a lot of anxiety. I'm already feeling it!” Instead, try saying something “Yeah, if I feel anxious I know I can handle it.”
- Desensitization: This is a therapeutic technique which can help you become more comfortable with what is fearful. I use desensitization with clients while they are in hypnosis. It involves taking small steps to put yourself in situations that trigger anxiety. For example, if you can't even drive your car, then you might start by sitting in the parked car in the driveway or on the street with the engine on but not moving. Notice whatever anxiety comes up and just be with it. Do that for longer periods of time until you can sit in the car, engine running, without anxiety. When you reach that point, and it may take a few hours or a few days, then drive around the block. If you feel anxiety, just pull over until it goes away, then continue driving. For freeway driving, you might try getting on one on ramp, staying in the slow lane, and then getting off on the next off ramp.
The most important thing to realize is that even though anxiety does not feel good, it will not kill you. It is your reaction to the feeling of anxiety that can make it manageable or not. Instead of fighting anxiety, just allow it to be.
Notice it, and see if you can observe it with detachment. Take deep breaths and try to remain in the present moment.
Realize you have a tendency to create anxiety with your thoughts so try focusing on something else, the environment, music, or the cars in front of you.
If you are still driving even though you experience anxiety, these tips can be helpful and good luck. However, if your level of anxiety is very high or if you are phobic, you will probably need some help.
As a hypnotherapist specializing in anxiety, I can tell you that you don't need to live with the anxiety; hypnotherapy can be effective for allowing you to drive comfortably, confidently and safely.
Driving Phobia: An Ideal Treatment
Source: StoryTime Studio/Shutterstock
Once in a professional lifetime
It is usually the case that a person who has a driving phobia also has other phobias. The basic fear in an agoraphobia, which is the most common phobia and is the condition from which most of the others derive, is of having a panic attack in one of a number of particular settings, including a car.
Any place from which a phobic person feels they cannot immediately leave is a candidate to become one of those settings.
They include circumstances where there exists either a physical constraint, such as an elevator, which can become stuck, or a social constraint, such as sitting together with others in a restaurant. Once that situation is avoided, and then avoided again and again, the person is said to be phobic for that situation.
Phobias typically spread. The following are some of these common situations: being in, or on, a bridge, tunnel, elevator, airplane, shopping center, restaurant, theater, escalator—and also a car.
The defining characteristic of a panic attack is the sense of an imminent loss of control. This shows up in a driving phobia in two ways.
Half of those with a driving phobia are especially afraid of being a passenger in the car, because they have a sense of not being in control. They may avoid airplanes for the same reason.
The other half are especially afraid of driving the car, because they fear losing control of the wheel and causing an accident.
The essential element of an exposure therapy is convincing patients that they will not lose control.
I tell them that in over 40 years of dealing with this problem, the Anxiety and Phobia Center has never seen a patient have an accident when in the midst of a panic attack.
On the other hand, I remember a woman who was so relaxed after treatment that she fell asleep on the road and drove into a tree. But she was not panicky at the time and did not experience a return of her driving phobia as a result of the accident.
On another occasion, I was working with a patient when another car jumped the guard rail and struck us. This incident did not worsen her driving phobia since the important element in a driving phobia is the fear of loss of control and not the fear of something else happening.
But when I try to reassure patients in this way, they are not reassured. They discount what I say.
Although they, themselves, have never been in an accident, they feel that they were on the verge of an accident many times.
If they hadn’t pulled over to the side of the road just then, or if something hadn’t happened just then to distract them, they would surely have had an accident. They remember driving a car as a series of near misses.
Usually, the only way that patients can be truly reassured is by their driving over and over again, further and further, even when they are panicky.
They have to discover for themselves that they will not lose control of the car. Sometimes, this takes considerable time.
A patient may have to start driving in a driveway before progressing to driving around the neighborhood, and then, finally, to driving on highways.
Sometimes, although rare, a driving phobia can begin suddenly following an accident. If the phobia takes hold, it can last a very long time. But there was one occasion when I found that I was in the exactly right set of circumstances to prevent such a phobia from developing.
A patient who was phobic in a number of ways, but had not yet developed a driving phobia, came late to her appointment.
“I was just in an accident,” she told me, very agitated. “I’m never going to get in a car again.”
The accident, it turned out, was not her fault, but her car was totaled. I told her what everyone knows: that she had to start driving immediately, or she would have trouble ever driving again. She said she would be too ly to have a panic attack, and we proceeded to the usual argument about whether that would cause an accident.
I knew she was planning on visiting her mother across town. “Listen,” I said, “you’re going to be late to see your mother. I just got a new car, you can borrow it.” And I handed her the key to my new car.
She stared at the key, but then took it. She drove the car to her mother and back, without any misgivings. “I figured you really thought I was safe,” she said, “if you were going to let me drive your new car.” She never did develop a driving phobia.
Now, I know the reader’s reaction to this story is to think I was reckless. But imagine that I really did mean it when I felt sure she would not lose control of the car. I knew, of course, that anyone can have an accident for any sort of reason; but I felt as safe as if a neighbor had asked to borrow my car. Besides, her mother only lived about 25 minutes away. And there was a lot at stake.
I never had the occasion to make such an offer again.
(c) Fredric Neuman 2012
What Is the Fear of Driving and Do You Have It?
KittisakJirasittichai / Getty Images
Although it lacks an official name, the fear of driving is incredibly common and may be mild or severe. Some people fear only specific driving situations, such as driving in storms or on freeways, while others are afraid of simply sitting behind the wheel.
Often other phobias can be linked to the fear of driving, especially one or more of the following:
- Agoraphobia: The fear of driving is commonly associated with agoraphobia. Loosely defined as the fear of being trapped when a panic attack occurs, agoraphobia leads to the avoidance of situations that feel threatening. Driving is one of the primary clusters in which agoraphobia manifests. Bridges, tunnels and long deserted stretches of roadway are particularly difficult for many people with agoraphobia.
- Claustrophobia: A fear of driving is sometimes related to claustrophobia. The fear of enclosed spaces, claustrophobia is easily triggered by the relatively small confines of a car. Some people with claustrophobia report that their fear is worse as passengers, while others are more afraid of being the driver.
- Performance Anxiety: Driving is a major responsibility. Not only must you manage your own safety, but that of your passengers and others on the road. Those who suffer from stage fright or other performance-related fears may be uncomfortable trusting in their own driving abilities. The fear may be heightened when passengers are present, particularly for those with social phobia.
- Fear of Accidents: Those who suffer from dystychiphobia, or the fear of accidents, try to avoid situations that increase the risk of physical danger. In addition, a more general risk aversion may also heighten the fear. As an inherently risky activity, driving has the potential to trigger risk-based phobias.
- Fear of Travel: The fear of travel, hodophobia, encompasses fears of all forms of transportation. Many people with this phobia are comfortable driving to familiar locations but are scared to explore new destinations or routes.
- Fear of Authority: A slight nervousness around authority figures is natural, but some people are genuinely terrified of any contact with authority. People with this phobia are often afraid when driving around police cars, fire trucks or ambulances. You might also be reluctant to negotiate unfamiliar traffic lights, roundabouts and other traffic situations for fear of doing something wrong.
The fear of driving is not always linked to another phobia. Many people experience a simple driving phobia that is uncomplicated by other fears. A simple driving phobia may be caused by different factors, including:
- Bad Experience: If you have been in a car accident, you may be at elevated risk for developing a fear of driving. Other potential triggers include driving through a major storm, getting lost, being pulled over or driving in unusually heavy traffic. The negative situation need not have happened to you. Witnessing a particularly bad crash in person or on television, or knowing someone who went through one, could be enough to trigger this fear.
- Family or Friends: How your parents and friends treat driving may influence how you feel about it. If one or both parents are particularly cautious drivers, it is not unusual to internalize their concerns. Some people develop a fear after watching particularly gruesome drivers' education films or Mothers Against Drunk Driving displays.
Some driving phobias lack a clear cause. Some people find that their fear develops suddenly, after years of successful driving experience. Others simply never have the desire to learn to drive. Fortunately, it is not necessary to find the cause in order to treat the phobia.
It is always best to seek professional treatment for any driving phobia to ensure that another condition, such as agoraphobia or claustrophobia, is not present. Left untreated, even a relatively mild driving phobia may worsen over time.
Treatment options for a simple driving phobia run the gamut from individual therapy sessions to seminars, group exposure sessions and psycho-educational classes. Exposure therapy may be a particularly good way to overcome this phobia. Some people find that working with a private driving instructor is a helpful complement to mental health treatment solutions.
The fear of driving can have a major impact on virtually all areas of your life. With professional assistance and hard work, however, there is no reason to become a prisoner to your fear.
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Johns Hopkins Medicine. Agoraphobia. Updated November 2017.
American Academy of Family Physicians. Post-traumatic stress after a traffic accident. Updated September 2019.
Costa RTD, Carvalho MR, Ribeiro P, Nardi AE. Virtual reality exposure therapy for fear of driving: analysis of clinical characteristics, physiological response, and sense of presence. Braz J Psychiatry. 2018;(40)2:192-199. doi:10.1590/1516-4446-2017-2270
American Psychiatric Association. (1994). Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (4th Ed.). Washington, DC: Author.