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.

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).

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 🙁

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

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.

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 CANT BELIEVE IT BUT WE HAVE THE EXACT SAME FEARS. MY FEARS STARTED OUT THE BLUE. I HAVE NEVER BEEN IN A WRECK. I HAVE NO CLUE WHAT THE PROBLEM IS!!!! I AM JUST RELIEVED TO KNOW THAT THEIR SOMEONE OUT THERE THAT CAN RELATE BECAUSE PEOPLE THINK I AM CRAZY!!!!