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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. 

I moved to a new state. Literally across the US (Detroit to Seattle). I did not know the HUGE difference it would be in terms of the roads! I came from a flat state and Washington is super hilly. I was terrified for the first 2 - 3 to drive more than 15 minutes from the house. Naturally, I got a job downtown and that was the worse! I would start shaking before I left work because I had to go up 3 huge hills. Also, it's darker here. The roads are dark and it terrifies me not knowing exactly where I'm going. If there's a steep hill, I still go into panic mode. I have gotten a lot better but could still use a little help :-)

I want to drive but right as I sit in the drivers seat my mind starts going all over the place.What if I hit someone it would be my fault and my family would be disappointed.Another is what if I get pulled over I was taught what to do but I am not good with pressure.What if I was a reason that a parent would never see their kid again.My parents just think that I will get over this phobia,I want to get over this phobia.I just hope I could look back on this and laugh but that isn't happening today.

When my girls started driving about 10 years ago is when it all started. I can even think about them driving. I freak out if I am driving in front of , or behind them while there driving. Or just the thought of them driving scares me.
For the past month or so I have been terrified of driving. What started this was it was raining and foggy out. I could not see the lines on the road , just the cars coming at me and cars going around me. I was clinching the steering wheel so hard and tensed up. It to me about an hour to get to work which usually only takes 35 minutes. I was so terrified... Now I am scared to drive. Expecially at night or when it is raining. I don't known what to do. I still have to work. I need help and nor sure where to go...

I’m 25 years old and I’m terrified of driving. I was in an accident when I was 15 and it scared me from learning to drive and I feel like I’m a burden on my friends and coworkers cause I’m always needing a ride. I shouldn’t have to worry about how I’m getting to work or to the grocery store or to an appointment I really need help conquering my fear!

Hello- I live in Houston where there is traffic everywhere- it’s like I woke up 1 day and started freaking out when I drive- when I’m on the freeway it feels like I can’t breathe and at times feels like I will faint- this came out of nowhere- I stated driving on feeders and it helps a bit- idk why this is happening- I have had anxiety for as long as I remember but never when I drive- please help- what do I do?

Everyone of these are constantly playing in my head, daily. I’m 25 and a mother, I have SEVERE depression / anxiety. Aside from only going to places I can walk too, I have can’t build the courage to reach out to my family for rides to go anywhere not even a dr apt for my daughter. I’ve driven 1 time 5 months ago and it was exilerating, yet I haven’t been in the drivers seat since then.
I need help. I want to be a better mom I want to feel free, I don’t want to be a prisoner anymore. (I’m literally crying while writing this)
I don’t know what to do, people think it’s a joke when I say I can’t drive & being laughed at only makes my mental state so much worse.
Can someone who understands please reach out to me, it takes a lot for me to write this.
Thanks.

River - I too am a mom and have driving anxiety. I used to drive just fine and then after having my first daughter developedd severe driving anxiety. I could not even get into a car to drive down the street. I eventually found a center that does cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). I did exposure where the therapist takes you on the road and whatever thoughts and fears you're feeling, the therapist will "walk" you through what they mean, how to counteract those thoughts, etc. It helps because you're talking in real time to someone who understands what you're feeling and has experience working with people who have the same issue. It doesn't work overnight and you do have to do "homework" and be comfortable with being uncomfortable. It is not easy but it's so worth a try. Now I'm working on freeway driving. Good luck.

I get too scared, thinking in my head over all the possibilities that could happen while I'm driving, all the possible outcomes. How one wrong move can cost a life for another person or my own. I'm afraid bc i feel as if I'm not in complete control.

I’m sorry I just reply to the last post. I am desperate for real help for my 19 yr old daughter. She is my best friend and I hate that she is struggling. In May 2018 she was in a major accident while driving and totaled her car.... thankfully everyone ended up ok with minor injuries. Exactly 2 weeks later her friend and her were driving on a back road with no street lights and hit a killed a 21 yr old man who was walking in the middle of the road with headphones in his ears. These two traumatic incidents has caused her to have major anxiety while driving. She is seeing a therapist but claims it is not helping... has anyone tried hypnosis? I am willing to spend whatever I need to to help her get better. We live in Michigan and everyone drives.... no taxi or bus. She needs to drive for college and work and life!

It's a relief to read this is a real thing, I started trying to get my drivers licence quite late (30) and had a very stressful instructor who was extremely pushy, didn't take any of my fears seriously and was just very nonchalant. The small fear of driving I had only grew driving with this guy because I didn't trust him and I didn't trust myself behind the wheel either. I should have just fired him and gotten another instructor but instead I ended up having a full blown panic attack on the freeway, missing clear road signs because I was stressed out and even disassociating behind the wheel which was incredibly scary. I managed to get my license anyway and drove for about a year at my job, but the fear never got better. Rather it just intensified and I eventually quit the job because I started having trouble sleeping knowing I was going to drive the next day. I know it sound ridiculous to other "normal" drivers lol! Now I think I'm going to avoid cars (it's possible where I live) until I have the time to actually see a therapist about it or something, because I've tried to fix this on my own and it only gets worse :/ Chin up to everyone suffering from this, it's not easy, and you are not crazy! <3

This is seriously so refreshing to here other stories on sharing the same fear. I am 26 yrs old and just barley got my permit which took a lot of courage in itself. I’ve driven A few times and it’s like Im freaked out the whole time but I’m also super proud. And then it turns off and I’m scared agin not wanting to drive. It’s really frustrating especially when I see young kids doing it at ease. And like I’ve read above I get made fun of for it which is also very discouraging. But reading this thread and this article really helped me. So thank you guys I’m so happy I’m not alone in this

My problem is driving on the freeways, bridges, overpasses, I become paralyzed and can’t move, also when another person drives I am the same and have to close my eyes way before driver gets to those places

Whenever i drive i feel like i may have caused someone to lose their life. Last night i was on a turn at night and didnt have my headlights turned on(i forgot) and a car brushed pass at a high speed and ive been continuously thinking about it that maybe it skidded afterwards due to the late acknowledgment of my car. Events like these cause stress. Im from a very conservative family and cant tell them of my problem or ill be punished for having such thoughts. The stress literally dawns on me all day, i dont know how long i can take this.

I am 64 years old but for the last four years I have been riding to work with a coworker. My fear leads to this but I want to be able to drive my self to work my daughter said I need to get back to it . I have wanted to see if I can take some kind of medicine so I can drive again but do not know what to do

I was in an accident (I was driving) and a motorcycle wrecked into me. The guy almost died. Blood everywhere. My car was tore up. He was screaming and crying. And I didn't even get out of my car. The police officer made me. I didn't even react. And then I got out and walked to the grass and stood a few feet away from the motorcyclist who was lying on the ground screaming and crying while pedestrians and the officer were comforting him and I didn't even look at him. I didn't say a word to him. I actually felt nothing. I never reacted. Months later the anxiety kicked in. I couldn't drive. I would slam on breaks and scream and cry. 2 years later (now) I can drive again-but I don't let ANYONE drive me. Tonight my soon to be ex (because of how he just treated me) managed to get me in the car and he drives like a maniac. I panicked so bad. We got home and he was furious with me. I was so scared. I can't do anything or go anywhere with people. I've been to therapists and I've taken meds. They higher the dosage each time and after a few days I'm immune. My anxiety is so bad I almost have heart attacks. I live in a dark hole from hell.

I have this fear too, my fiance told me his been patient enough for 4 years and he will shout just for me to snap out of it because I'm making his life miserable. I'm afraid of driving even more afraid of having him teach me. His just making me feel even crappy about my uselessness to drive that I feel like just dying

I also have a fear of driving , I’ve had my license at fifty three and have to chew bubble gum to relax my anxiety. I don’t drive much or get on the interstate. Never been in car accident but really get scared and worked up just to get in my own car. I pray on this daily to get over my anxiety and hate it.😂

I've driven a company car for more than 20 years driving two to three thousand miles a day never had a issue driving until recently. I feel like I'm on a roller coaster when I hit about 70 miles an hour. Help me.

I’m about to be 25. I have a fear of driving. I have 2 kids so I know that I need to learn but I can’t bring myself to. I’ve tried before but I ended up having a horrible anxiety attack, I almost hit several things including a parked cop car. My family is like it’s all in your head you just need to get over it! But that’s the thing it’s not all in my head, and come on if it was that simple don’t you think I would’ve done it already! Do you think I enjoy having to rely on people for rides to the store or to get my kids to their doctors appointments no of course not but I can’t get over my anxiety!!!! I’m 24 I’ve never had my license I’ve had my permit but I let it expire cause I can’t even drive long enough without a panic attack to pass my drivers test. I feel like I’m never going to be able to cope with this and get past it. It’s run my life for so long. I can’t keep a job cause I can’t drive and eventually everyone gets tired of helping out with rides even when I give them $45 a week for gas and we only go maybe 4 miles a day in total and only 5 days a week but I tried to make it worth their wild so they wouldn’t back out on me but eventually everyone does. My dad is honestly the worst about me not driving. He keeps telling me I have no choice I have to get over this. And he’s tried pushing me to drive. He has taken me and my kids far out of town to go eat then on the way home will pull over and say if you want to get home you will get behind the wheel and drive us home. When I start to freak out and say I can’t he gets so mad and starts yelling and cussing at me saying things like god damn it Shailee get the --- over your fear and drive me and your kids home now. You don’t have a choice.... we have sat on the side of the road for 4 hours before cause I would not drive. Eventually he gave up and drove us. Luckily my husband understands and he doesn’t push me to do it. He just says you will when your ready.

I have the same problem I can bebop around locally but can’t go more than 30 miles when driving even then sometimes I have anxiety on the freeway somebody has to help us without having to charge us a Bunch of money because most of us don’t have it so we just sit here and live in fear and family doesn’t help they all think you’re crazy if there’s anybody out there that could help you should

I'm 20, going on 21 and I dont have my lisense , I'm scared to drive... I have anxiety and its difficult to get over it enough to really try..

Laurissa Williamson

March 9, 2019

Anytime I am in a vehicle I have this internal fear, and it's not of anything specific it is of EVERYTHING. I'm 19 and I really want to be able to drive, but when I do I have panic attacks. I want help to figure out how to stop the panic feeling I get.

I also have a fear of driving.

I took a driver's course at 17 and got my license, but I got out of practice when college came around since the college I attended was an hour drive from home and my parents worked near there (so they always gave me a ride). The driving I did throughout that time was only 5 minute drives through back roads to my sister's house for work 2-3 days a week. 3 years after getting my license, my dad needed a second driver to drive one of the cars home after one was done getting fixed. The drive was about 5 minutes away though it involved the highway at 55 mph. It was Alaskan winter roads with snow, ice, etc and I drove the one car out on the road a few minutes before my dad came with the other car. I drove 40-45mph due to winter conditions. An impatient driver in a truck behind me tailed me near my turn on the highway and refused to go around. Unknowingly, I sped up a lot to try to avoid the driver and was going too fast for my turn on the ice. Luckily, no rollover or anything, just went straight into the soft snow on the side of the road (again lucky because even the snow on the side of the road compacts into ice about a month after this incident). I couldn't get the car out myself, but my dad was able to handle it once he caught up and saw what happened (no ridicule at all though; I fully appreciate that to this day). But ever since then, I have been TERRIFIED at how much another driver affected my driving performance.

The year after that in the summer, I couldn't stand regular oncoming traffic on the highway. I barely made the short minute drive with shaking and severe sweating. It didn't help that there was road construction at my turn with no flagger, and traffic was at a busy hour so my left hand turn was holding up traffic on the 2 lane highway. I cried in the parking lot once I got there. At 24 years old, I feel ashamed that I have little to no confidence in driving and my husband's coworker recently shamed me for it to him. I just don't feel like I am capable of driving for my own safety or everyone else's on the road. I'm sure I can still do back roads okay, but places with pushy/rude drivers scares the daylights out of me.

So I would say #1 is one of my main issues with being a victim of road rage during the winter and a panic attack for the summer drive. Although, #5 is one as well since I'm frightened of the thought of suddenly dying from a car crash and how my family would suffer. It did help to remind myself on the back roads that no one wants to intently hit you with their car; everyone wants to get home safe. That statement seems to make the most impact for me on being willing to consider driving again. I think I would want driving lessons in the winter to gain confidence in snow/ice driving (my teenage driving lessons were during the summer which only 1/3 of the time in Alaska is there ideal driving conditions). I just need to push myself to do it (it's still winter conditions right now and stays that way until the near end of May).

Hey guys! Im 29 years old ive been battling with this fear of getting stuck in traffic for about two years...its crazy i cant even get in the school lines to pick up my kids from school or even get in a fast food drive thru line..traffic on the highway is the worst i get sweaty, my hearts beat really fast i get cold & i just feel like passing out i honestly just want to jump out the car if i feel stuck anywhere!

For 16 years i have have a driving phobia. I can drive around my town but any where new sends me into panic mode. I haven't driven or rode on a highway in 12 years. Even if I'm not in the car I have panic attacks about my loved ones getting killed on the road. I feel so trapped. Snow and rain are also triggers. I've been to therapy countless time and take meds for my anxiety. I don't think I'll ever feel normal again.

I have a severe anxiety disorder and I'm almost 22 and dont have my drivers license I want and need to get it because I have two kids but my anxiety is so bad when I drive it freaks me out because I keep thinking about like car accidents and if I dont pass the test cause my anxiety or if I go to fast or too slow it's so overwhelming to you but everyone gets frustrated with me cause I'm 21 and dont have my license

I am a late driver, I didn’t get my liscense early on like I should have and am now at 23 trying to learn how to drive and get my liscense (ridiculous I don’t have it already, I know) I keep trying different methods of learning and trying out new teachers but I’m starting to realize it’s not my teachers fault
It’s mine. When I’m driving I shake, I tense up, I have trouble multitasking cause all I think about it paying attention to the road and not messing up and when I finally get through a lesson I always end up getting sick or bursting into tears. I am terrified of driving and I don’t know why. I’m starting to feel like I’ll never learn.

I relate to so many of you who have posted comments on here. Reading through your experiences have made me feel less alone. I am 29 years old and have been dealing with my fear of driving since I was 18 years old. My thoughts have included losing control of the wheel, crashing, killing someone, or embarrassing myself by making a dumb driving move. Having been diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder and OCD, I understand the engine that keeps these thoughts running.
Being raised in NYC, I didn't really need a car. I had the MTA to rely on. Lol. When I graduated college and moved to Pennsylvania, I quickly understood the necessity of owning a vehicle. At the time, I was 24, and didn't even have my permit. When my colleagues at my job knew I didn't drive, yet alone have a permit, I was met with shock, confusion, and sometimes condescending remarks. My job required most individuals to drive and during team meetings, it was always openly discussed how I didn't know how to drive. Talk about feeling like you're under a microscope. In 2016, I finally built up the courage to get my permit and my license. The happiest moment in my life was when my instructor told me that I passed the exam. Unfortunately, I was unable to afford a car, so the anxiety crept back in.
Going through this anxiety is very debilitating as driving is something that "defines" independence and adulthood, in many developed societies. Understanding the technological/societal contexts of our nation and zooming in the lens on an almost 30 year old male trying to find his independence, be respected, have a family, and develop a career can make it seem really difficult considering the fear of driving.
That is why I have been going to therapy and trying methods such as CBT. ACT (acceptance commitment therapy-I believe a form of cbt??) may also help in tandem.
The comments I have read on here have inspired me to continue to fight and challenge myself. So thank you.

I feel the same way. I have super bad anxiety when Im driving...but I also have really bad anxiety even as a passenger. Terrified of a car wrecks even though I have never been in a bad accident. My heart starts racing and I feel weak and sick and I get very bad chest pains and can't breathe.

A year ago. I was in a random shooting. Someone shot at my car while I was getting on the expressway. I can drive the street ok but after being in the car for so long makes me hot I feel like I have lost control. Like im going to die in the car. Please help.

I was recently in a car accident. Aside from injuries and pain, I've also been suffering from anxiety, depression, and sleeplessness. The pain has been so intense that I have been taking an Aleve/Tylenol cocktail a few times a day. Can't imagine what that is doing to my stomach, liver, and kidneys.

I started taking Nubotany Hemp Oil as soon as it came and noticed an immediate difference. That day I walked around in two stores and was not in screaming pain afterward. Meanwhile, I have been taking the Nubotany oil daily and have noticed the following changes: Much less anxiety, better sleep, much-improved mood, less pain - sometimes none all day.

In addition to taking the oil orally, I also apply it topically when one or the other injury is acting up - helps right away. I have to say, I'm pretty impressed. Though I still have to take pain meds on occasion, the dosage and frequency have gone way down.

I can relate to the one of being trapped. I'm also scared to even go a 2 miles with my family driving today to a docs appointment today -- I think i'm afraid of the appointment ( I need eye surgery in a few days and this is a pre op appointment-- my husband usually takes me so my daughter had to take me-
and had zero sleep last night which doesn't help (anticipatory anxiety)
I had to take a small amount of of alprazolam just to get through this.

As we know <a href="https://www.youthkiawaaz.com/2019/05/taking-the-wheel/">Driving</a&gt; can’t be won, like any other sport, it will come from practice. I drove two hours on the freeway that day and I know it is the beginning of a new beginning. So far the journey from fear to faith has been quite liberating. It wasn’t easy but when has it ever been? It will take hours and months for me to fully relax. I still drive sitting on the edge of the seat.