by Ken Goodman

Ken Goodman, LCSW, practices individual and group therapy in Los Angeles to help anxiety and OCD sufferers free themselves from debilitating fear. 

He is the producer of clinicalfellows.jpgThe Anxiety Solution Series: Your Guide to Overcoming Panic, Worry, Compulsions and Fear, a step-by-step self-help audio program. Visit his website. 


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 know 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!

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.

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.

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 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 🙁

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?

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.

I'm in my late 50's now-when I was a young father-we did drives to Florida many times and I used to insist on doing all of the driving. Most people would tell me how boring the drive on I-95 was for them but I loved it. We even did a cross country drive in 2000. My issues started right after that-We planned another drive to Florida about 8 months after the cross country trip. Internally, I wasn't in the mood to do that drive again, But I figured I just drove cross country and back, so this is no big deal, But about an hour into the trip I started feeling anxious about the trip, I just didn't want to do it. Of course always insisting driving, I would never think of giving up the wheel to the wife, so along we went. I don't remember when it started. but I started to feel anxious and then had a dizzy spell and had to pull over. After it happened a second time, My wife insisted she drive. That was over 17 years ago and I still can't drive long distance without my body getting tense and stressed out to the point someone else has to drive. it's very upsetting to me.

I’m the same never had a problem with driving always suffered with aniexty then one day was driving along freeway nearly blacking out from panic attacks so now I can’t drive out of town I don’t know how to fix this so now I panic about having panic attacks while driving ☹️

Hi Ashley, my fear of driving just came out of nowhere and is getting worse. I have been to counseling , on medication, and even to hypnotherapy and it keeps coming back. My job is only 4 minutes from my house and I've been taking meds just to get there. I feel so weak when I drive like I'm going to pass out and my limbs go numb. This is terrible

I totally get where you are coming from. The tingling/dizziness/shortness of breath feels so real that I have actually wondered if I have some inner ear problem. However, it ONLY happens when driving....not even when riding with others. I feel helpless and embarrassed, and no one knows about it but my parents. Luckily I work 5 mins from home or I'd have a real problem.

How do I find a therapist that can help with this? I live in a small town and don't know where to start. This happened out of nowhere with a panic attack and I haven't drove on a highway for 2yrs. I need my Independence back.

My hometown has seen numerous teen deaths from behind the wheel. In 2016, two of my classmates were killed and another was seriously injured on the road I used to live on in a car accident. I haven't been able to get over other car accidents I have been involved in as a passenger since then. I need to conquer my fears so I don't have to depend on others to get me around.

Most of my anxiety while driving is that I believe there are no drivers in the other vehicles. I imagine they are all robots and they will run me over if I don’t keep up. I feel like I have to dodge them. I can’t remember that the other vehicles have people in them that don’t want to get hurt either. Does anyone else suffer from this problem?

I'm 37 and I feel the same way. I drove for years on and off with my permit. Until 4 years ago I had a car accident. After the accident Ive decided not to drive anymore. Not driving has affected my lifestyle and its expensive to get around while relaying on car services. My teenagers have their learner's permits and Im afraid to let them drive. My mother never drove either.

It keeps on happening, this fear of driving, and it has just gotten worse for me as time goes on. Based on the top five driving fears above, mine are #1, 4 and 5. I think it started with #5--fear of fatalities--in high school driver's ed. With most kids, the message of "driving is deadly" probably went in one ear and out the other. With me, the message never went away. That fear gave way to #1--fear of past negative experiences--when I had my first (and, fingers crossed) only car wreck where I was at fault. I also avoid driving in inclimate weather at all costs. A big factor in my moving to the desert was for the weather...especially for driving purposes. That fear gave way to #4--fear of going too fast and losing control. I have been fearful of driving downhill for a long time. Now, the fear is expanding to driving on highways in general. I have tried conquering this demon with four different therapists using CBT techniques, and none of it has worked. I know it's referred to as the "gold standard," but there's got to be something else out there that will work for me.

Like many that have already posted, I have a predisposition to anxiety in the first place. It surprises me that so many people are afraid to drive and have similar fears to my own. I wish all of us the best and increased independence as time goes on. I don't know exactly how it is achieved--if I knew, I would be writing about how I conquered these fears. Nothing but the best to all of you...

My fears are the ones listed from 3 through 5. I'm terrified of losing control of myself and my car, either killing myself or others in an accident.

I have the same issue. Wish we could all practice driving together. It's so hard so others to understand the issue and how difficult it is to loose independence. I'm here to chat if anyone needs

Mandy, I completely understand where you are coming from. I'm ashamed and don't tell anyone about this problem except my parents. It's frustrating because to me, it FEELS like a physical problem but I know it's just based on anxiety. I'm fighting it with all I have and trying to make myself drive as much as is possible for me.

The first time I had a panic attack was on a flight, then it happened many times when I drove. I'm slowly getting better with my driving confidence and hoping one day I will be able to get in my car and go wherever I want, whenever I want. Right now, I feel like I need someone to go with me whenever I drive long distances (anything over half an hour). I live in a rural area so it is very difficult for me. I have become dependent on others to get me where I want and need to go. I am a teacher and have to travel to training at times and it's so exhausting making my travel plans. It's a constant battle with shame for me. I finally looked up how to overcome driving anxiety and this is the page it directed me to. I have all the symptoms listed above. I do not take medication, nor do I want to. I can do most everything else in my life, except the driving along part, and it's limiting my living :( It feels good to be understood though and that I am not alone.

I have the same issues as you accept one major difference. I DONT want anyone with me when I drive because to me it causes more anxiety. I also get so bad I often have to stop several times to go to the bathroom I get severe cramps when I panic.. I am surprised that more here dont prefer to be alone when you drive? I am over 50 and never had a crash I drove alot especially for work I now dont work and worry and avoid going out as I am scared someone will run into the back of me. or run a red light and cause me to be involved in a severe accident. Being alone in the car at lease helps a little because if I get sweaty, panic or need to stop its easier on me. I also WILL NOT go on a trip if I get on the freeway and get in a wide open area with no exits in site I really panic!! I really hate this,... I never EVER uses to be this way.. :(

I will be turning 32 this August, and I just got my license this year. I attribute my fear of driving to being a passenger to road rage & accidents but I've always had anxiety even as a child. In 2013, I began suffering from extreme panic attacks. It took over a year to get the chemicals in my brain back to normal (w/out medication) & for the most part, now I'm able to talk myself down before the panic takes over. I'm still very fearful of having a panic attack while driving and I refuse to drive alone. I am getting more comfortable and confident driving but I haven't been able to go anywhere without another adult who can drive if I start to panic. I know it's a daily struggle to conquer anxiety & every time I get behind the wheel I'm 1 step closer to beating it. I just wish it was easier....

I used to drive perfectly for 5 years , but end of 2014 i started having panic attacks and i know have a driving phobia. I need help please. What should i do, so frustrating and painful.

I am 37 and I had my first panic attack while driving last year . It changed my left completely. I hate remembering because it was horrible . Now I can’t drive in the freeway or big open roads . I get anxious driving for more than 15 minutes especially to places I am not familiar . Start by driving short distances and with someone you know and feel comfortable. Every day you should drive . The more you drive the less anxious you will be . If I have a panic attack it takes me a while to get back on my feet . It affects my heartbeat, my sleep , my brain and my whole body . So it makes really afraid of having another one . I am terrified . Exercise, yoga , meditation , aromatherapy oils has helped me . At least now I can go around my neighborhood but I haven’t tried the freeway yet . Little by little I need comfront my fears . Talk to your doctor if you can take some supplements like magnesium , vitamins b . Stay positive tell your self that you can do this you can fight this . Anxiety is just a feeling it will go away it wont kill you . Accept it and let it go little by little . Good luck

Ty for your post. I need to let this go! I need to drive and stop avoiding. Stop making excuses.

I have had a fear of driving for at least the last couple of years.
Now, there is a job that I would really like to apply for but feel that I can't because it is farther away than my current job, and I'm worried the driving will get to be a problem. No highways, but a longer drive, and early in the morning it will be dark. I wish I could just set this anxiety aside and apply for the job I'm interested in, but it's not that easy :(