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!


Fri, 2018-02-02 10:38

In reply to by alton

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

Jacquelyn Augi…

Mon, 2017-10-02 08:56

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 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.

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’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

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