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


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.



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 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 was wondering if it can be passed down as well. My mom didn't get her license until she was 36. I will be 35 in September and still don't have mine. I have 2 kids and put so much stress on my boyfriend by not driving. I feel like I am disabled because I do not drive.

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 am 25 year old male and have been struggling to get my license for years from a fear of driving. Not driving kills my confidence. I can't ask women out because I don't drive and hate myself for it. I have nightmares where any time I drive immediately crash off the side of a cliff and wake up right as I hit the ground. I always remember vividly feeling my body tense up as I'm falling through the air before I hit the ground. I wish I didn't have this fear like most other people so I wouldn't feel so lonely.

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

I have been trying to learn driving since 16 i am 33year of age and still to scared to drive i got my license jipeeeeee but i still think of all i did wrong and have this anxiety of what could have gone wrong or what can go wrong it feels like i have no control over the car. I even have nightmares of car crashes.

It’s hard I’m 34 an it that happens to me ... when I was young I loved driving . My heart beats fast as well an it’s hard to breath ... even if you know you ok an you will be fine feel like you gonna die every time ...

I myself feel Terrified of driving I have children and everyone in my family think I'm crazy or stupid ,just cause I'm not behind the wheel. it's not that I Know how to drive ,I'm just scared and I hate being trapped in my house I just don't know what to do.... I know how you feel.

Ever since I have had children I have an irrational fear of driving and a few other things. Picturing the worst happening I think the fear comes from either losing my children or something happening to me and I can't be there for them. I really have no idea.

This is exactly me. Plus add on the fear that I will accidentally cause and accident or hit someone and drive away without knowing it. Paranoid someday someone will come to my door and take me away fro. My children. I’ve never even had a wreck

Your fear of driving after you had children is exactly what happened to me. I used to drive all over the state, and even raced others in my BMW on the freeway. After two children it all changed. I don't do freeways, and been having to overcome just getting down the street. I would like to hear from those that have taken this overcoming class.

I feel the exact same way and i feel like my fiancé just doesn’t understand. I cannot explain why i don’t drive but when i try to I’m just giving “excuses”. I’m very ditsy i get sidetracked so much it isn’t funny. I have a 6 year old that i would have to start driving with him in the car. I won’t be able to drive alone. So i get terrified of the thought of harming him because i got sidetracked or i panicked on the road. So i just put it last on my priority list but i know i want to do more for everyone. I know i want to just go somewhere without asking for someone to take me. I know i would love to take my son places just to take him. But i never follow through with just studying and getting my license. I know the answer is to realize the fear and conquer it. But i never think of doing it when I’m supposed to. I don’t know i just don’t understand myself.

My fear of driving started when I was young. I witnessed many car accidents that made me scared to ever go behind the wheel. My parents showed me videos and images of car accidents from drinking and driving crashes and they really had an effect on me. I am so nervous for so many different reasons. Even as a kid I hated even being in the passenger seat of a car. I feel like a loser since people young than me have the ability to drive now. I really need to get over this fear, to help out my parents and grow this skill. But it seems impossible when I cant overcome my fear.

I relate to this, I've known too many of my friends who have gotten into terrible almost fatal accidents, and I have been in a few accidents while being a passenger. Now I'm too afraid to even get close to cars because even bumper to bumper cars. It kind of sucks because almost any younger person I know have licenses already and it's kind of embarassing and I don't want to rely on my parents on driving anymore.. I failed my test 3 times at this point because I keep having panic attacks.

I’m scared to drive when the need is sudden or Ik it’s a busy road. This fear has made me so defensive of my problem that I push it off and make it as if I have reasons not to get up and go.

Hi, I too, need assistant. I've been driving from 2003 without any fear. The fear started in 2016,never been in an accident. Number 3 and 4 from the above list are what affects me the most. I'm failing to drive on left-turns (bends), on free-ways and steep places (going downwards). I hardly drive in a speed of 60 km/h. Please help.

5 years ago i had my first panic attack. Long story short i went from being completely independent to codependent over night. I saw a therapist who suggested cognitive therapy. He also recommended a book that changed everything for me. It’s been 3 years since my last panic attack. Once in awhile when i start to worry or feel anxious I’ll dust off the book and refresh my memory. It’s so worth it.

When Panic Attacks
By: David D Burns

I too had an anxiety/panic attack 3 years ago, and it turned me in to a codependent over night...your story has given me hope! Thank you, i look forward to reading this book!

Hi I am in this situation now. Ive had anxiety for over 4 years now but it slowly started to interfere with my life, including driving! I have 4 kids and I am so afraid to drive with or without them due to having anxiety while driving. How did you get over your fear? Any tips you can help me out with? I do see a therapist and I am on medication. Thank you!

I had a panic attack too for first time. 5 yrs ago while driving on interstate. Even now I cannot drive. I get behind the wheel and feel disconnected and scared. I feel unsafe. I have driven twice in the past 2 years and that was for a few moments. What book helped you?


Please let me know if you find solution.
Exactly, mine began two years ago just like that I don't know the reason.I even stopped drinking alcohol and smoking because of this driving phobia.

I started driving in 2001 with my permit, no problem.. I enjoyed it.. I had times I felt anxious here and there on long drives but I didn't let it stop me.. but in 2013 I had a major panic attack driving to my work 25 miles away. Ever since I have not felt right driving, just knowing it could happen again. I am 32 now and this is not fun, especially since people do not understand.. I always wonder why me? Although my mother had this issue when I was a kid in the 90's. Still not fair!!! Hang in there friend!

I have battled anxiety for over 12 years now and ive overcome the social anxiety...going into grocery stores, the lines at airports, big open parties etc. Now this year, i have had a fear of driving on freeways, so i started taking back roads everywhere. i don't know why or how this started, but today i was on a back road and all think about is what if i lose control? what if i hit someone or crash. im so frustrated to the point where im constantly looking to make sure there is a place to pull off if i need to. does any one else feel this way? ive literally had no problems with driving...ive driven alone for hours and been fine. why now??

I've always loved driving. I was the one that always elected to do all the driving if I could. Never any fear of bridges or the like. Then one day 5 years ago I had my very first panic attack while stopped at a light. I didn't know what it was, went to the emergency room, that whole thing. Since then I get very anxious while driving and I cannot drive on freeways at all. I get panicked and am not breathing correctly, which in turn feels like I'm going to faint. It's awful. I know I'm supposed to face it head on and drive the freeways anyway but when I get closer to the on ramps I just panic. My husband has to do all of the long disgrace driving. It's so upsetting.

Holly, I feel for you. I have been having anxiety attacks on and off now for over 15 years while driving.
I have tried to reason many things that could be a cause. Like you I was always the one to drive, in fact I raced motorcycles in my younger days. I go through phases where I feel like I could drive a thousand miles with no problems at all and then there are many times I can't dive five miles on the freeway. To be honest one of the main reasons I am responding is because I have gone a fairly long time without having any problems until very recently. I can start out perfectly normal and looking forward to what I am heading to do then out of the blue it can strike. Rapid heart beat, breathing out of control, headache, neck ache, extreme dizziness, clinching the steering wheel until my hands hurt, flight response like I need to get out of the car and run, just all around panic. I have found some techniques that tend to help sometimes.... I will add and subtract with one hand using my fingers and concentrating on trying to fool myself. I will find and object in my console to flip around in my hand and count how many times I have rotated it. I know it sounds ridiculous but it actually does help to a certain degree. It also helps me to have another adult driver vehicle as a passenger. I have also been to a doctor many times after these have gotten out of hand for testing (blood work, CT, blood pressure ect.) and there is actually no other medical reason for it except for anxiety. During my phases of having this anxiety I avoid freeways, left turns, stop lights, if on the freeway I stay in the far right lane or I avoid travel all together. Yes you are correct it is very upsetting and I feel also degrading to a certain degree. Try to stay positive and good luck to you.