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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. 

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.

I am 56 I moved to Florida from jersey with my husband 5 years ago ! I used mass transit to get around , but ha ect I drive in florida been driving 2 years on off ! Local & never venture out I am not afraid of anything but driving I can’t relax I have so much anxiety! But my husband don’t understand me thinks I am making up how I feel to get out of drive ! I want to over come this feeling !

I too suffer from anxiety. Had my first panic attack while driving with my kids 4 yrs ago, and have had them ever since. It has robbed me of my independence, as I can't drive much at all anymore. Even started getting them now as a passenger, so I don't leave the house much. Would love to chat with someone who knows what I'm going through.

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.. :(

You aren’t alone. I have a weird combination of the two. I prefer to drive alone unless I’m with someone who knows my anxiety issues and can help keep me calm. I fear the responsibility of driving with someone else in the car with me and how someone might react if I started to panic. I am also afraid to go to new places by myself in case I get lost. It’s an annoying combination! I fear driving at night and in bad weather and I’m also afraid of being stuck on train tracks or overpasses. I still drive as much as I can because I feel that if I stop driving my fear will take over and I won’t be able to drive at all. I do try to stick with familiar places and always use my phone through my car Bluetooth for directions which helps. I wish I could offer advice to help others here, but somehow I am able to calm myself when a panic attack begins by sensing my first symptoms and recognizing that I’m starting to have an attack. Acknowledging what I am experiencing helps to calm me down before it turns into a full blown panic attack. I don’t believe I suffer as much as many people here do. I sympathize though! This fear is real and tough to overcome!

I don't want anyone with me either especially not my husband. I'm 52. When I was in my 20s young and single I didn't mind giving friends rides. They seemed to trust me. We would talk and relax. They seemed to have confidence in me. Now my husband drives us places. I drive better alone because I can decide what's comfortable for me. I fear driving my husband to medical procedures or following him to pick up a car in the shop. When I ride with him other people's driving habits anger him. He points out to me how stupid they are. He tells and honks. When he follows me he'll point out that I'm too slow, and why did I wait so long making a turn when I could have made it. Sometimes he'll tell me I'm going too fast when I'm only going five miles over the speed limit. He doesn't understand why I can't park straight and in a condescending way will logically explain that There's nothing to it, sweetie. When he needs a ride because of a medical procedure I get apprehensive and tell him. He kids me about it and doesn't understand my fears. I'm afraid of making a mistake and I'd never hear the end of it. A lot of times he just waits until he can drive.

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....

Sacha how did u get the chemicals in your brain normal with no meds? I have been dealing with anxiety for 2 yrs and now panic attacks while driving for 6 months. I wan't my independence back. My husband tells me to just keep driving but thats easier said than done. I too want to beat this with no medication.

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 :(

I am 45 now and have had anxiety all my life. When I was younger, it was more social anxiety. However, I used to pick friends up, and just drive and not care where we ended up. Over the years, I moved to Florida and decided to move to Miami to go to college. I was there for 10 years. Driving and commuting in Miami was such a traumatizing experience for me, I now live elsewhere and am literally afraid to drive. In Miami, you are tailgated constantly, it is just awful. I even had a gun pointed at me once I believe just because I was going the speed limit in the right lane on the highway, and the person behind me didn't like it. The grocery store is 1 mile from my home now, and some days I can't even bring myself to get in the car and drive there. I had to drive my Uncle to the airport a few weeks ago, my first time driving any type of long distance in 2 years, and I was rear ended by someone not paying attention. It is holding me back from getting a job because I don't want to drive. I feel like I am cursed because every time I do drive, an accident happens or I encounter rude drivers.

I too am suffering from severe anxiety.
I keep thinking that sowmthing Terri let will happen to my car while I am driving.

Will I break down?
Who will help me?
Will I be able to afford a repair bill?
How will I get to work?

I know these seem logical and unlogical at the same time, but I am left with paralyzing fear. I am becoming more and more reclusive and don't want to even leave my own home. I make excuses of why we can't go somewhere and live in panic and fear when ill have to leave and go to work. Alone. By myself.

My husband thinks Im crazy and tells me so constantly. I can not figure out how to make this go away.
Desperate and living a nightmare.

I'm a new driver and I'm terrified of being too far to the left of the yellow line or too far to the right and running off the road. I just got my permit and I'm going to try this.

It feels horrible to have such anxiety as it limits me from doing a lot of my daily activities. The best I could do to alleviate it is by distracting myself with loud music. I know it's dangerous but I have no other option.

It feels good to read the comments here because at least I know I'm not alone. I am 50 years old and used to drive wherever and whenever no problem. I was a nervous passenger long before I was a nervous driver. The driving anxiety came on gradually. I feel like I make some progress then take two steps back. It definitely affects every area of my life and no one else understands. My husband is usually very steady but seeing me get anxious makes him nervous which then feeds my anxiety. It's awful. I hope we can all get beyond our anxiety and get on with our lives.

I love driving, I really do. But my truck makes my anxiety act up. For me, it sits up too high and i can't drive it everywhere I want to go. I usually jump in my mothers car, she has a focus. My main fear is flipping my truck over, so I just drive slow but it doesn't really help me out.

Im 33 i have 2 children and im codependent on everyone to drive me around. I fear the worst when driving. Thanks to my mother and her fear installing failure induceding talks. I feel horrible about not being able to take my boys out. I fear some major life events are about to happen and have major anxiety about how im going to manage the houselhold and not being abel to drive. Even writing this comment is causing me anxiety. I feel worthless and trapped.

Almost all of those are examples of my fears when driving. I really want to get pass this anxiety. I’m starting school in a town an hour away next week and I’ve been stressing myself out about it. Idk what I’m gonna do.

I was in an accident where there was a death of another driver due to me causing another driver to hit him. I served real jail time because of this and I was completely sober too. I never wanted anyone to ever get hurt in the first place so I sometimes feel like I can’t trust myself at all when I start driving again. I feel like I may hurt someone again on accident even though I know that it was a freak accident I was in. I haven’t started driving again yet because of a suspended license but I feel that when I start driving again that it could take me years to drive on a freeway again.

I am anxious with driving. I,got hit by a drunk,driver while,walking, saw 2 tractor trailers run a red light. My car got hit by another car at a stop sign and I am afraid,I,dont have the reactions I need to. I have a baby and a husband,with epilepsy. I need to,drive, but I am so,afraid,to,do,so

We don't talk about a phobia against dangerous drivers . . . Such as drunk, drug impaired, people running from the law, etc . . ALL that is in abundance here in Southern California.

It's good to know I'm not the only one who suffers from this it has truly held me back I'm 27 years old just got my permit last month I absolutely hate driving but at the same time I want to get out and do fun things with my kids,go surprise my son at lunch,take them to the park,ect but this fear of driving I have is so debilitating. I'm so embarrassed by this. It really helped to read some of these comments let's me know I'm not alone it just feels that way bc I dont personally know anyone other than myself who suffers from this.

I need to overcome this feat, I drive fine on roads thats less busy but once i drive in traffic, I panic and thats when I catch on nonsense 😓😔 Please give me some advice on how to get more confidence..

After reading this and so many comments I finally don’t feel alone in my fear. When I was younger I always wanted to drive I don’t think my anxiety started until I was actually sitting behind the wheel of a car trying to learn. My mother is a very anxious person and she was always worried about leaving me alone or me being in the car with unfamiliar drivers. I’m 26 now and I have never driven a car, the few times I’ve tried to learn I have fallen into a panic attack and been inconsolable. I’m so embarrassed about my fear and hate telling people that at my age I still don’t drive. It’s affected my personal life to the point where I’ve lost friends and I can’t get a job more than 15 minutes away from where I live so my options are limited. I want so hard to overcome my anxiety and finally live my life.

Hi, I been in a bad car accident and I got hit on the passenger side and head on collusion and since January when it happened I have a harder time getting back in a car and when I do. I have anixty and then other day I was driving on freeway then a semi truck getting off the ramp almost hit me on the passenger side and other semi truck was behind me and almost hit me end the back bumper too. And I had a car next to me and I didn't have way to slow down. And my heart and my chest started to have a anixty attack again and scared me. I need help of my fear of driving again

I am 57 year old male having a valid Canadian G license. I have been driving in Toronto, Canada for the past 13 years. Before coming to Canada, I had been driving well in Kuwait (highways and inland) for 8 years.

In the past 5 years, I have developed some 'unknown anxiety' while driving on the highway. I get this anxiety soon after 15-20 minutes of driving making me feel as if "my car is not moving"!! While in reality, my car is moving at 100 kmph and during that time, I subconsciously start 'pressing the brakes' rather than the accelerator. This happens more when there are even no cars in the front or back.

At this point, I don't fade out or draw a blank as I am able to read all the road symbols, destinations and exits, etc. I don't lose control but my heart starts 'pounding' and my mouth goes dry! FYI, I take regular medication for BP, sugar and cholestrol but this anxiety does not show up when I am driving in the inland roads (speed limit of 60 kmph or less). Maybe, what gives me that inner confidence to drive on inland roads is the road signal which when red allows me to take a breather till I start again.

Soon after getting my G license in 2006, I started driving on the left most lane with no fear and used to easily shift to the middle or right most lanes depending on the traffic. However, with this 'anxiety' in mind, I don't venture to drive on the highway and prefer the inland route which might take longer but keeps me safer. I also don't recollect any bad incident happening to me during my 'good highway driving days'. I keep two full bottles of water next to me which I consume in sips while driving and when my mouth starts drying up.

I am pretty upset about the fact that I am not getting that old confidence to step back on the highway. Further, I never get that 'anxiety' if I am a passenger next to my friend or others. I find it most when I am either alone or with my family.

Can someone please advise me how I can overcome this 'unknown anxiety' in simple steps?? Request any questions to be asked for better clarification.

This has been an ongoing issue for over 8 years. I feel trapped in my little community only being able to fully feel comfortable driving in my town. When i leave my nest i feel like my eyes don't fully see or feel like they are wobbling around and have a hard time focusing. My heart pounds and i have difficulty breathing. I still do drive out of my comfort zone but feel extremely uncomfortable doing so.

I used to be an ok driver but now I panic if it’s frosty, heavy rain, snow and windy and my heart races and I’m gripping the steering wheel. I panic going over bridges and I can no longer overtake wagons, lorries or buses. The winter season has not even started and I don’t know how I’m going to mange drinking 38 miles a day commuting to work.

I'm 32 year's old and I've never had a license because every time I get in a car let alone behind the wheel I start to panic my heart starts racing and I start to worry something bad will happen. This is no affecting my marriage my husband dont understand why I cant drive and has talked about divorce if I don't start learning to drive so I can take care of things like going to the store or taking the kids to the Dr by myself. I really don't know what to do? I'm so afraid to drive but I keep telling myself how stupid it is to just do it before my marriage fails. What is some suggestions if anyone can help I would appreciate it greatly. Thank you

I had car accident rear eded and now everytime im on the car with my husband when we do left it reminds me that someone gonna hit us again.

I can drive very short distances, but I'm terrified that I'm going to be crashed into by someone who isn't paying attention to the road. Distracted driving is so prevalent these days, that it's like taking your life into your own hands every time you get behind the wheel.
It's difficult to explain this to anyone. I'm always asked if I've been in an accident. No, I haven't, but that doesn't take away from the fact that I'm absolutely terrified of being hit. It doesn't matter how defensive you are these days, people are on their phones, drunk, you name it. It affects my social life and sometimes my relationship. I'm so scared of driving that I'm starting to hate it.

I can definitely relate to this. Years ago I could drive in the big city with no problem. Nowadays I dread going out of town. I just know I'm going to be killed! I'm not even driving and still I am so tense and terrified. Waiting to be hit by any vehicle on the road. Just thinking about it, I would like to just hide in my closet so I don't have to leave my comfort zone. It is a major struggle. Then when we are out of town I just want to get home as soon as possible. The only place I feel safe. :-(

About a year ago mine started. I’ve had acccidents even wrecked in a police car (as the driver) at high speeds but that didn’t impact me. What did however was going from rural to city driving. One of my ticks left over from law enforcement was the tendency to phonetically recite license plates in my head. When your in major city however there are too many and it quickly overwhelms you. I HAVE TO do it no matter how silly it sounds. Next thing you know your having a panic attack. Suddenly the fear of driving - for your own safety or others kicks in and you doubt yourself and shut down. From there the idea of driving is suddenly enough to scare you to death, which becomes a cyclical event.

Unfortunately I’ve not found a solution, even though I’ve taken every medication they have thrown at me and attended every group within my driving range they have sent me to. The ironic solution that does exist is to move back to country where life is slower, but now that I’m married with child I can’t due to wife’s job and family.

These worries then cause depression to set in which cause further issues with job and finances et al. A not-do-simple thought process has wrecked me in the present. Life is both funny and cruel.

Gillian Abercrombie

October 21, 2018

I have developed a real fear of driving off the edge of bridges or down the sides of mountains. As soon as I can see over the side of a bridge or start to drive up a mountain area where there could be steep sides especially with corners the fear grips me. It is horrific and it could happen anytime as I live in Scotland and the country is full of this type of driving. If I know that I will have to cross an area like this, I worry about it for weeks. If I have to go to a place I am unsure of then the fear grips me as soon as I see a potential fear spot. What can I do?

I sure know how you feel. As I'm driving-in my mind I'm going to get hit my a car, drive off a cliff, run a red-light, lose control of the brakes and land -up driving in the dark is the worst. The struggle is real. Just thinking about it as I write this already has be sick to my stomach. When you find anything that helps, please share.

I used to be able to drive out of town. In the last 8 yrs I have a tremendous fear of driving out of my comfort zone. I received an e-mail that I need to go out of town for training which is about 2.5 hrs. It's still a week away and I've already made myself severely sick. I want to hide under my desk. I do not want to go. Just writing this is making me sick to my stomach. Too much traffic, noise, lights are enough to give me an over the top Anxiety attack. I love my job. I just can't drive out of town. I'm afraid to lose my job over it.