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by Ken Goodman, LCSW
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!

Now available! Recorded ADAA webinar presented by Ken Goodman - Overcoming the Fear of Driving (July 12, 2018). 

 


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: Your Guide to Overcoming Panic, Worry, Compulsions and Fear, A Step-by-Step Self-help Audio Program, Break Free from Anxiety, a coloring, self-help book for anxiety sufferers, and the Emetophobia Manual, for those who suffer with the fear of vomit.  Ken Goodman is an ADAA board member and Clinical Fellow. 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.

I to have this weird fear when I drive. I have never had anxiety in my life and a few months ago I was driving and felt like I was going to pass out out of nowhere. Ever since then I over think something is going to happen bad, and i start to i think to much and have a panic attack. It has really affected my life and the things i used to love to do. I would love to just feel "normal" again. I used to love to drive

Me too. I used to love it so much, i mean i still do, but as you have said..it is some wird feeling and it came from nowhere..everything is fine and all of the sudden things have changed..my heart starts racing, my palm's are sweaty and I wanted to drive faster but something doesn't let me 😑 and i have it specifically when I have to drive long runs on the fast road.. Also some stupid feeling like i am not present in a moment and then i just come back.. I really want to get to the bottom of this issue 😔

Thats exactly how it is for me! One day i was driving and i felt like i was going to pass out. It really stinks! The only place i drive is less than one mile away. It really does effect quality of life for me

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.

Have you guys tried CBD? I used to have the same problems being fearful and having panic attacks while driving. i was introduced to CBD a year ago and it has worked for me. Now I feel calm, i no longer get the fear and panic attacks like i used to while driving. It's amazing stuff imo.

Please let us know what CBD oil you use, amount and where to get it. There are so many different companies who sell it. You never know what your getting is authentic or not.

This is the ADAA team here. I would strongly suggest that anyone interested in learning more about CBD and anxiety/depression, that you read the ADAA post on this topic by two anxiety experts. https://adaa.org/understanding-anxiety/cbd

Liz, I can understand what you're going through. Like you I experienced a bad anxiety attack in 2003 driving alone. I ended up in the ER and was given a prescription for anxiety meds. I would say it took me about 1 year after that awful experience to drive places again. Around 2 yrs ago my anxiety started getting really bad again. Now for the past year I can't drive out of my comfort zone. I hope you are better now. I need to get help because I can't manage this on my own. But you are right most people don't get it. I have lost friends because of my anxiety. They showed me no support when I needed them.

the same thing happened to me 4 years ago, I have been diagnosed with Hashimotos disease a little while after. I still haven't been able to drive and my anxiety grew to where I had a social disorder and could barely ride in a car without feeling a sick. I get periodic dizziness. I start talking with a psychiatrist tomorrow. This has slowly ruined my marriage and my wife has given up on me. Now I have to fix me for myself and my son, I will beat this and she will regret not helping me...

I had been driving for 6 years now and I've always been a great driver. The only time I was ever afraid was when us 1st started. Well A year and a 1/2 ago, I had a really badd experience. It caused me to be afraid of slopes. I had just got back from Georgia to South Carolina. My mom's house is about an hour and 30 minutes away from my house in South Carolina. When I got back to South Carolina I decided I would go a town over to get something from Walmart so I drove past my house and went straight to Barnwell. After I left from Walmart I was heading back anxious to get home so I can get settled in after my long trip from my mom's house in Georgia. I came up on a car that was behind an 18 Wheeler. He went to pass the 18 Wheeler and I followed. We both passed the truck. I looked in my rearview mirror and the truck was far behind me. I look back ahead of me and noticed that the car was way ahead of me. All of a sudden I noticed I'm going down a slope. I was going 80 miles per hour and I did not like how I felt going down. I slammed on brakes going 80. It scared me. And now I'm afraid of slopes everywhere I go even little slopes. I'm getting a little better but sometimes I have to drink a beer to calm my anxiety to help me drive and it helps I've even went back to the same place where it happened and it doesn't even look scary coming back the way i did that night. it looks more scary going into barnwell from the other direction for some reason. And it's like I've never paid attention to all the hillyness. I'm used to curves and straight shots but out here in South Carolina the roads are very hilly and slopey. I will not give up until I can drive again because it's taking everything away from me. The places that I need to go to are too far for me right now. I can drive locally like in the area with no problem. But one time I try to drop the Barnwell and on my way back my anxiety got so bad that I couldn't even drive here locally in my town where I live it was really bad I felt ridiculous that I couldn't drive out here as long as I've been here but I got over that and now I can drive out here again so now I'm confident that I can drive further distances again as well one day.

Omg. I am the same way. I have 2 kids and eve. Yesterday I couldn't go pick them up from their dads house which is 5 min away. This is making me sick and tired . It just makes me wanna cry

I dont know how to gain control for driving in the freway again take side roads to work in sacramento ca,

I’m afraid of highways, rain, driving in the dark, switching lanes, scared when I see brake lights. I get dizzy, my arms and legs get weak,. I was a passenger in a car accident but didn’t start getting symptoms until about 4 months later. I also have worse anxiety when I am riding with others, especially when my son or daughter drives. I have a paralyzing Geary that they or my granddaughter will get hurt.

Victoria I swear you're in my head - as are all of the other commenters here. My first panic attack occurred on a highway 20 years ago and driving's never been the same. I used to love it, it used to be my escape, my happy place, and I'd love for that to come back.
I don't drive on highways anymore, and anytime I feel a twinge of panic I avoid the route that caused it - it's shrinking my life and feels awful.

Thank you, and everyone for posting. It's nice to know I'm not alone in this.

I'VE HAD IT FOR YEARS AND STOPPED DRIVING YEARS AGO....I DON'T TRUST ANYONE DRIVING ME ANYWHERE AND AM NERVOUS AND SYMPTOMS OF RACING HEART AND THE REST OF THE SYMPTOMS. ESPECIALLY ON TOLL WAYS THAT I TELL ANY DRIVER TO NOT TAKE THE EXPRESSWAY NO MATTER WHAT TAKE THE LONG WAY AND IF THEY DON'T LISTEN TO ME I HAVE TO GET OUT OF THE CAR WHEN I ORDER THEM TO GET ON THE RAMP AND GO TO THE STREETS AND I PAY THEM AND CALL ANOTHER DRIVER. I TAKE LIMOS NOW FEW AND FAR BETWEEN FOR IMPORTANT MATTERS BUT NOT FAR ANYWHERE. I USED TO BE SUBJECTED TO THE RUBBERBAND THERAPY TRICK THAT WAS STUPID AND A WASTE OF TIME AND MONEY...."SAID TO 'SNAP' YOU OUT OF YOUR ANXIETY BUILDUP BY SNAPPING THE RUBBERBAND ON YOUR WRIST! TRIED IT AND ALL I GOT WAS A SORE BRUISED WRIST AND MY SELF-RESPECT!

Same...
It’s been 10 years. I was cut off by a truck on the hwy and since have struggled. At first I couldn’t drive on the highway and now I can’t even be a passenger. I’ve seen just about every therapist and tried medication. I’m frustrated bcuz I feel trapped and like my life has been taken from me. I use to drive everywhere without any fear and like others said one panic incident and it changes your life. No one gets it. Just get back on the highway like riding a bike. It’s not that easy otherwise I would have done it years ago. I hope there’s an answer.

It feels like your whole life has been taken. You only drive a few miles, that you’re already familiar with. It’s absolutely horrible. And there’s no help.

I am 36 and have been driving. Since I was 18 ! I was so eager to learn to drive and when I did I made the mistake of staying local Folkestone to Maidstone round about town ! But I did bomb it about town and up down the motorway I knew !
I also drove a van and trailer to work ! One day on the A2 something happened to me and My mind was working over time the fear of an accident not keeping my speed up dropping back not wanted to change lanes sweaty palms the bad weather the dip in the road or the hill that was approaching or coming down it ! I tried to brave it out and did it several times the feeling of wanting to break knowing that you should never break on motorway A roads but my foot kept wanting to do it the car going to fast me having no control causing an accident ! Pure hell so terrible I started going to work on the on B roads only taking me 45 mins extra each way ! Worried about driving the night before and at work to drive home! Exhausting ! I would of given anything for someone to drive me home but no one !! I told my parents and ! My dad shouted give up then give up ! You might as well give up ! I’m a strong confident person In all other aspects of my life ! and I have absolutely no Idea why this happens to me ! B roads all the way !!
I decided 4 years ago that I would never go on a motorway again A road and up set my self like that again !! So I don’t happier for it ! But it’s a shame I have no desire to cure or face this problem it’s harriffic it’s just one of those things no one really understands Iv excepted x I had lessons coming down hill bridges to help get me about town xxx. A to B x that’s good enough for me ! Xx.

I had been driving for 6 years now and I've always been a great driver. The only time I was ever afraid was when us 1st started. Well A year and a 1/2 ago, I had a really badd experience. It caused me to be afraid of slopes. I had just got back from Georgia to South Carolina. My mom's house is about an hour and 30 minutes away from my house in South Carolina. When I got back to South Carolina I decided I would go a town over to get something from Walmart so I drove past my house and went straight to Barnwell. After I left from Walmart I was heading back anxious to get home so I can get settled in after my long trip from my mom's house in Georgia. I came up on a car that was behind an 18 Wheeler. He went to pass the 18 Wheeler and I followed. We both passed the truck. I looked in my rearview mirror and the truck was far behind me. I look back ahead of me and noticed that the car was way ahead of me. All of a sudden I noticed I'm going down a slope. I was going 80 miles per hour and I did not like how I felt going down. I slammed on brakes going 80. It scared me. And now I'm afraid of slopes everywhere I go even little slopes. I cannot drive over 45 or 50. I keep getting the urge to hit the brakes when I feel like I'm going too fast down a slope. Sometimes I can't even go 45 without freaking out now. One time I was going down a straight road and still having a panic attack. I'm getting a little better but sometimes I have to drink a beer to calm my anxiety to help me drive and it helps. I've even went back to the same place where it happened and it doesn't even look scary coming back the way i did that night. it looks more scary going into barnwell from the other direction for some reason. And it's like I've never paid attention to all the hillyness. I'm used to curves and straight shots but out here in South Carolina the roads are very hilly and slopey. And yes even when I'm coming up to a hill before I even get to it makes me nervous because I know a hills coming. I will not give up until I can drive again because it's taking everything away from me. The places that I need to go to are too far for me right now. I can drive locally like in the area with no problem. But one time I try to drive to Barnwell and on my way back my anxiety got so bad that I couldn't even drive here locally in my town where I live. it was really bad. I felt ridiculous that I couldn't drive out here as long as I've been here but I got over that and now I can drive out here again so now I'm confident that I can drive further distances again as well one day. And also for me to prevent breaking I put my hand up on my visor and push up on it to keep from from braking and the car just rolls through. and I also noticed that when I have something to help my anxiety when I just go down the hill a little faster it feels better than me trying to creep down it.

I don’t like being forced to drive fast 70 80 Scared to death of lorry’s ! They just stick to the same speed and won’t change lane just get up your arss basically saying speed up or move out my way ! Friends say tuck up behind a lorry 🚛 🚗 Your be ok 👌 but that causing accidents and everyone that drives past shakes there head whilst I’m diying at the steering wheel in embarrassment so afraid to Change Lane. . B roads are 30 40 and you can go slower if you want to no harm done and you can pull over and exit when you want to!
With out this Anxiety Keep happing I’m a lot happier doing all the things driving I can do comfortably.

Isn’t it funny how most of us that have this haven’t actually been in an accident and been driving for years and have a clean liecences .

I was told when this all of sudden happened and got worse from then on ! Was because of low sugar to much caffeine lack of sleep stress and no food all day !
Well I had all of the above when I worked the markets 4 am starts !! And it did happen to me coming home from work was the start.

So as long as we eat well and drink well and not to much caffeine and don’t feel tired stressed perhaps we will be ok on that motorway. Or on that hill ?

I may Evaluate the situation since reading and talking on hear and when I feel good I might try that motorway !

People just don’t understand if only it was that easy If you could actually physically do it you would ! After all you don’t want to quit your job miss out on going to many different destinations completely independently! Or drive.. your family mad literally lol by driving through 4 towns to get to a destination taking time and heavy traffic on as Extra to get there ! Iv lost count of the amount of times I’ve driven round the rounder bout and said: shall I do it ? shall I do it be brave you can do it and then drove past that motorway exit 🤦🏼‍♀️! The fear of what might happen if I go down there!

Welcome the anxiety as its coming on....really want it to come...if you really mean it, it will lose its power almost instantly. Also, focus on really living in the moment. Living in the past and future is what gets those what if loops going in your head

You are so correct and it works, I was told this by a consultant when I was working as a nurse never thinking that one day out of the blue it would happen to me,panic attacks can not happen at all if your muscles are relaxed as it is impossible,next as you said (go with the flow) I just say to myself ok come on then and believe me it will not happen,your comment is the best I have read as it really works every time.

this has been happening off and on in my life, i would like to get over the fear of driving the freway way i live in sacramento, ca i feel as am going to lose control i hate big rigs on the freway and feel taarapped when iam driving and tail gaters scare me, i take all side roads to get to work, i feel "less" then? is there thaeory for this in west,sacramento?

i have been driving since the age of 17... i went for my bus licence and started driving buses when i was 29.
my dog got knocked over and we rushed him to the vets they couldnt do anything but put him down that killed me... my boss who i worked for had me go into work 2 days later, i wasnt ready to go back to work but my boss was pushy.
thankfully my partner came with me that day and everything was fine up until my last drop off, i felt not well my partner told me to pull over which i did and thankfully i did as when i opend the bus door i fainted. ever since then ive been so scared to drive and i panic, i do go for short drives but i find it difficult to go futher 20miles... ive had no accidents yet the experience i had makes it so hard for me to forget and all i want to do is drive and enjoy it how can i get that bad experience to go

I get really dizzy when driving and it’s worse if I’m by myself, but when I get to where I’m going I’m fine after I walk around a minute and then I feel stupid for having the anxiety so bad .

I’m at my wits end! Anxiety with driving began 15 years ago. I’m now facing major depression, shame, etc. I truly want my life back.

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