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by Ken Goodman
fear of driving

It’s easy to understand how a major car accident would cause someone to fear driving, but most driving phobia have nothing to do with accidents.

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 out of 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 likes, 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 out of 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!


About the Author

ADAA_Ken-Goodman-websize-1.jpg

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. 

Sue

February 2, 2018

In reply to by alton

I can definitely phobic and especially re the last example. Thank you. One step at a time.

Takema

November 13, 2018

In reply to by alton

I can remember ever since i was a small child i was here physically but not mental . Everything seems so real its like i know i am here but i am not now i am 34 with 4 kids and i dont drive terrified because i know my mind will go some where else and I'll be there until suddenly wake up to a crash or some honking there horn i dont know what's wrong with me i just know i go to a place in my mind and i talk out loud while i am around others but quickly try and come back its hard to explain i feel like i cant controll my mind and where it goes when it comes to driving. I am afraid because i cant focus my mind will go some where else and thats where i am eventhough i can be driving talking to someone or even in a group. I have this whole conversation to myself and out loud because i feel like i am really there but i am not every since i was young i dont know if I'm bipolar schizophrenic or simple depressed but I know I'm here but not here

It sounds like you suffer from dissociative episodes (dissociation). This is a common symptom in depression among other things. CBT has wonderful grounding techniques that I found useful whenever I feel myself going elsewhere mentally.

It sounds like you suffer from dissociative episodes (dissociation). This is a common symptom in depression among other things. CBT has wonderful grounding techniques that I found useful whenever I feel myself going elsewhere mentally.

I start to panic before even getting to the car. The time I'm there I've convenced myself that I can do it. I'm shacking, terrified. It feels like I've lost control of my life. I haven't been able to drink since 2016. I can only make it a block. (Not kidding) & feel like I can't breath. I have to pull over & jump out of my truck. I don't understand why I'm so scared but I always think what if I fall asleep, omg, there's just to many cars. Ive been battling aneixty mainly (depression has actually set as well now) I feel trapped. I have social anxiety. I can't be in big crowds. Feel like I'm going to faint. I'm terrified my life will never be the same again. 😢 The struggle is so real I make myself physically sick. Ur not alone. Prayers sent ur way.

It just started for me I've been driving for 30 years I work in construction and have to drive every where .I was driving three days ago and I had tunnel like vision I felt like I was going to pass out I turned around and made it home just in time.but when I got home I was fine ? Now for the past three days every time I get in the car I'm having a panic attack I don't understand it .

I have exactly the same thing going on, did you get it diagnosed yet, is there medication. It has literally come out of nowhere for me too.

It started for me after I was hit by another driver and my car was totaled

One day on the highway I looked in the rear view while driving on the highway and felt like I was having a panic attack out of nowhere! Fast forward years later I avoid highways like the plague and when I know I have to drive somewhere I start to feel anxiety and I've been driving for years so I dont get where the fear is coming from

Out of nowhere, almost 3 years ago now (!?!) I had a panic attack while driving on a stretch of highway I have been driving for over 20 years, and I have been terrified of driving on the freeway every since. I too was a road warrior, always driving long distances, enjoying the trip, LOVED highway driving!!! Now I've missed holidays with family who are 4-5 hours away on a freeway, I can't take my daughter to cool places (Disneyland, Yosemite, San Francisco). All because of one split second of panic almost 3 years ago, and entire lifetime of being a confident and happy driver was wiped out. I've seen an anxiety therapist who actually drove with me on the freeway, and she told me to continue to drive on the freeway, and to even purposefully make myself anxious before going, and that over time I would no longer have as much anxiety. I can go from one on ramp the next off ramp, and I've even made it a whole 45 minutes, but it's my MIND that messes it up before I even get on the freeway. I'm so conditioned to be scared of the freeway and I just haven't found a way to stop the fear of the fear.....but I WILL and I WILL be going on road trips again!!! Don't give up, we can all regain our road warrior-ness!!!

Liz,

The same situation happened to me. About 4 years ago I had a panic attack while driving on the interstate. I had to pull over because my hands felt like they were going numb and I was short of breath. I even called 911 because I was so panicked. Ever since then any long distance driving that has me isolated on an interstate or far from where I’m familiar give me crippling anxiety. I find sometimes talking on the phone over my Bluetooth while driving gives me some comfort as if someone is with me, but I still can’t go in excess of more than 20 miles without scaring myself and panicking. I used to commute for work every day over 2 hours round trip. No problems. I drove 14 hours once and didn’t have an issue. That split moment 4 years ago changed my life. No one I know understands or can relate.

I know exactly how you feel. Same here and it is so hard to explain to others.

I used to drive long distances, no problem. Also, driving 45 minutes to see friends or kids was a habitual thing. Now, I dislike driving together. I tell myself that it's because I've driven everywhere all my life, but now it's to a point it has become debilitating. I have anxiety disorder and MDD, but never had it for driving. This fear keeps me from many things I NEED to do.

Wow I’m 16 and I feel you on some levels😩😭😭😭😭 I just got my permit yesterday and had TERRRIBLE ANXIETY taking the test and had anxiety attacks and shaking until I finally fell asleep. But I could not sleep for the dear life of me😭 Today I drove to the store for the first time and I have no idea how to explain how I felt. I just have terrible,terrible anxiety. I feel like I’m in the car but like I am not. I feel so dizzy and my eye sockets hurt. I try to focus on the road as much as I can and do all these things at the same time, but I forget to some things and it gives me more anxiety. I don’t know how to explain it😭 I feel like I could just easily get in a car crash . I don’t trust myself to drive. I feel like I would repulsively do something crazy like drive super fast and purposely crash....😭 I need help but I don’t know. I have always dreamed of finally driving but I have ALWAYS been afraid. I don’t trust myself and I am extremely terrified. It’s just such an out-of-the-world experience/feeling😩... i don’t know if I want to drive again...I just don’t know what the heck to do with myself. I am still shaking and very anxious. Since yesterday I haven’t calmed down....anyway sorry for the long comment.

Jacquelyn Augi…

October 2, 2017

I feel disabled, being afraid to drive to different and new places. Can't drive out of town, don't get up and go. I feel so limited. I've been driving for 16 years, 1 accident, hit from behind which made things worse.

Rollover at 16 (would have died if i was wearing my seat belt. Instead walked away with back and knee issues plus slight vehicular anxiety)

Struck by truck at 20 while riding my bike on the sidewalk(light damage to my knee no hospital visit, much more cautious when outside)

21, 17 weeks pregnant struck by truck in cross walk rushed to er (scrapes and brusies sore all over my daughter was safe and sound, i cant even cross the road or get into a car without major anxiety attacks)

Hi Gloria,
Just look for a therapist that offers cognitive therapy. Search under “counselors,” “therapists” or “psychologists” or look for counseling centers. When you call for information, ask if they offer CBT (cognitive behavior therapy).

I have been driving for years with no fears whatsoever, then out of nowhere last summer whiles driving down a hill I braked all of a sudden instead of slowing down, the car tipped forward. I was like what happened and then it happened again within a few minutes. I sort of brushed it off but in two days time it happened again and even veered off the road, and has still continued till this day. It went away for awhile but it's back in full force now, I can't go more than 25 miles I have to use Uber to school and work which is a shame since a have a sitting in the driveways. My Doc prescribed some medication but im not using it because if I stop the medication the symptoms will still be there.

No one, including myself, could really understand why I cant drive. I have tried to explain that I am scared to death I might kill someone... perhaps a even a child! I have never been in an accident. I never even had trouble with driving until I had children... once I had children, everything changed. It is very hard to explain to people and I am glad I read this. I feel less "weird". It DOES effect everything in your life, and people do not realize how real the fear...no...the TERROR it is for me.

My fear started when I had children too. I'd previously driven around the country. I have since realised my mother is a fearful driver and this was modelled for me as I grew up. I either decline long trips because we'll be going high speed or I go and suffer so terribly. So sad.

I feel so down and like a failure I seek for support from
My family instead they give me negative feedback example ,I can't.believe u can't drive there it's only 15 min away blah blah I feel I'm letting my kids and myself down as I'm limiting myself

My mom doesn't drive either. She won't even get her license. I wonder if this fear has been passed on? My older brother has also suffered with fear of driving. Like me, he can do short trips around town but if theirs too much traffic, it gets too overwhelming. I am so ashamed of this phobia, I fee like it's ruining my life.

I can't drive. My heart beat rises so much when i have to drive. I am 18 but trying to learn since i was 16. It's is really hard for me. I don't know why i have such kind of fear. But people don't understand and say that i am faking it. I really can't drive 🙁

Me too Aarushi. I always feel down when people don't even understand me. They even laugh at me. At 26 years old I still feel so scared to drive. Sometimes I feel so worse of myself.

I can drive locally for the most part and suffer from bad anxiety+panic attacks..I have a doomed and dread feeling if I'm driving or in the car. It's awful. I'm 30 and want to travel but this limits me.

I'm in the same boat as well Nana. At 26 I'm so embarrassed that I still can't drive. I work with teenagers and every day they talk about getting their permit or getting their license and I can't help but feel horrible about the fact that these teens have managed to so something I still haven't. It's a really crippling fear.

I am about to be 25 and I have internal anxiety with the thought of driving, I don’t want to drive but I have no choice

I’m also 18 and feel the same way! I get scared when I have to drive to a place that I am not familiar with. I make myself mad because I don’t know why I get like this! People always tell me to stop worrying and they say that I have to drive in traffic and to places I’m not familiar with and it scares the hell out of me! They don’t understand that I am truly terrified of driving. I recently had a panic attack in a Safeway parking lot because I turned right as a big truck was doing a u-turn and I almost got hit, head on, i was so scared. I don’t know if I should go on medication or do yoga or meditation? I’m not sure, but I need to change my ways before I start a professional career where I’m gonna have to travel to different areas every day ): I’m glad I’m not the only one having this problem.

I have tried facing my fear of driving and just tried to drive to a place I know how to get to and got so scared I wont drive there again. I have struggled since my drivers permit didnt get my actual lisence until I was 18. I am now 23 and still scared to drive to point I wont. A family member drives me :( its so frustrating because I am not even sure the cause.

I've had my permit for over four years now. It has been a slow but steady process and even now there are still things that I am not 100% with like reversing and parallel parking.

I am 17 and have been doing courses to get my liscense since I turned 16. I am almost done my classes although I get awful anxiety. I feel scared weeks before a practice and I always make excuses not to go. I am so afraid of hurting someone because they showed us videos of accidents on the first day of class.

You’re not alone I can’t drive too I feel I’m going to have a horrible breakdown I’m age 21 some my friends drive perfectly fine in the night