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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. 

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?

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!!!!

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.

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 ☹️

Ok. Where to begin. Ditto! ☺️ How can this happen out of the blue. I have driven for 38 years. The last 20 years my job required driving. Now the idea of interstate driving is insane. I’m driving, my mind becomes conscious of where I’m driving and the fear begins. I rear to the right side of the road and drive slowly until I exit the interstate. I can manage general city street driving. I to have driven from Texas to Georgia and Texas to Florida. Nothing scared me. I do not recall if this fear is all post my 2015 heart attack.

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.

Can you tell me what medication has helped you? As I have a severe driving phobia. I often pull over to the side of the road. i can not manage major highways without difficulty.

Any help would be appreciated.

I am 20 years old and I have been practicing driving for a year. my sister has become a skilled driver and I too know how to drive but whenever my parents ask me to drive I have observed increased heartbeat, sore breathing, and trembling legs or sometimes my whole body starts shivering. it's not that extreme but I can easily feel the changes. and now I have started experiencing anger in myself. I start fighting with my mother whenever she forces me to fight. no ones understands me they just think that I am a lazy ass is my emotions. My younger sister is so kind to me always but still, when this kind of thing happens she either laughs at me or gives me such expressions that feel so degrading. I don't avoid driving cox of my laziness I just don't like to drive. I feel so much pressured and fearful. my father is upset with me.

My fear of driving is crazy it’s way worse at night in unfamiliar places it doesn’t matter if it’s day or night i aways fear driving to fast and flying of a curve in the road straight parts are ok unless there are drop offs on either side of the road way it feels like the road surface under my car is dropping away from under me at night it’s on a whole nother level i start to imagine the road all of a sudden being flooded with water out of nowhere like all of sudden I’m totally submerged in water then there’s the feeling of being lost or having parts of the road disappear or landmarks moving around on me constantly driving in circles this phobia totally crazy i drove to San Antonio texas with my sister I’LL NEVER DO THAT AGAIN NEVER!!!

Oh MY God, for about two years now am suffering on driving.I had tried many things.visited many psychologists,psychiatrics,many antidepressants but it got worst.I even loosed good jobs because of fear of driving.I only drive maximum of 60kph with struggle.
The symptoms is the feeling that the car is bend on the left hand side .I feels as if the car intend to tumble.
Please does anyone know the solution ?Please help me

And especially on turns at fast speeds. I live in an area with a lot of twisty turny roads and I feel like the car is going to tip all the time.
My driving phobia hit me at 52 after being "house bound" for a few years taking care of my elderly mother. When she passed and I tried to get back out into the world, I had this new driving phobia that is crippling me.

I feel the same way; what if I lose control? I also always look for a place to pull over in the event I have a panic attack. I have dealt with this anxiety for over 20 years. It's a terrible feeling, and difficult to overcome. I am just praying and trust in God, that soon I will be delivered from this spirit of fear🙏🙏

You're not alone sis. I use to be that woman who races on the freeways & enjoyed it. 1 day I was coming home & saw a car upside down. Few days later my driving habits changed. I haven't driven on the freeways for 2yrs & I'd rather use back roads. I'm always scared of falling or hitting some1. I'm on meds but don't have insurance to see a psychiatrist as my doc. reccomend. Prayer has been my strength through all of it.

I feel the same!😕 it comes out of no where!! You feel like you are almost to involved in what's going on !! You being in control! My hands n feet do the same🙁 sometimes I have to put my car in park at stop lights! Breathing doesn't help! I'm still looking for a solution?? If I find one I'll let you know😊 it's hard having this I know! We'll figure it out!!!

I have no problem driving. But I do take back roads due to so many accidents that other people have on this exit called 210 in Maryland. So many people have lost their lives on that hywy. Its called Indian Head Hywy, but I called it Indian Head Raceway! I dont like driving places that are unfamiliar to me. Especially at night or driving in DC. Its so congested. But the real fear comes from getting lost. My chest gets tight, my heart races and my entire body tightens. Ive been talked about and a friend of mine got upset with me because I didnt drive her home after leaving a play in DC. I always take the subway downtown. She took an urber. We both took the train back to the subway parking lot. She wanted me to drive her home from there. But it was so dark and even though she didn't live far from subway, I was afraid Id get lost. Now Im having trouble seeing at night. She was very angry and I felt really embarrassed and stupid! She is only 29 and Im 61. I was hoping that she would drive. Ive been this way since my mid 30s. But I would hide it. But I will drive all over the place, but not in unfamiliar places. I usually find my way without using the GPS. But Im even afraid of getting lost with the gps too! I got it bad!!!
Pray forme! LOL.

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.