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by Ken Goodman, LCSW
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!

Now available! Recorded ADAA webinar presented by Ken Goodman - Overcoming the Fear of Driving (July 12, 2018). 

 


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.

I start to panic before even getting to the car. The time I'm there I've convenced myself that I can do it. I'm shacking, terrified. It feels like I've lost control of my life. I haven't been able to drink since 2016. I can only make it a block. (Not kidding) & feel like I can't breath. I have to pull over & jump out of my truck. I don't understand why I'm so scared but I always think what if I fall asleep, omg, there's just to many cars. Ive been battling aneixty mainly (depression has actually set as well now) I feel trapped. I have social anxiety. I can't be in big crowds. Feel like I'm going to faint. I'm terrified my life will never be the same again. 😢 The struggle is so real I make myself physically sick. Ur not alone. Prayers sent ur way.

It just started for me I've been driving for 30 years I work in construction and have to drive every where .I was driving three days ago and I had tunnel like vision I felt like I was going to pass out I turned around and made it home just in time.but when I got home I was fine ? Now for the past three days every time I get in the car I'm having a panic attack I don't understand it .

I have exactly the same thing going on, did you get it diagnosed yet, is there medication. It has literally come out of nowhere for me too.

It started for me after I was hit by another driver and my car was totaled

One day on the highway I looked in the rear view while driving on the highway and felt like I was having a panic attack out of nowhere! Fast forward years later I avoid highways like the plague and when I know I have to drive somewhere I start to feel anxiety and I've been driving for years so I dont get where the fear is coming from

Out of nowhere, almost 3 years ago now (!?!) I had a panic attack while driving on a stretch of highway I have been driving for over 20 years, and I have been terrified of driving on the freeway every since. I too was a road warrior, always driving long distances, enjoying the trip, LOVED highway driving!!! Now I've missed holidays with family who are 4-5 hours away on a freeway, I can't take my daughter to cool places (Disneyland, Yosemite, San Francisco). All because of one split second of panic almost 3 years ago, and entire lifetime of being a confident and happy driver was wiped out. I've seen an anxiety therapist who actually drove with me on the freeway, and she told me to continue to drive on the freeway, and to even purposefully make myself anxious before going, and that over time I would no longer have as much anxiety. I can go from one on ramp the next off ramp, and I've even made it a whole 45 minutes, but it's my MIND that messes it up before I even get on the freeway. I'm so conditioned to be scared of the freeway and I just haven't found a way to stop the fear of the fear.....but I WILL and I WILL be going on road trips again!!! Don't give up, we can all regain our road warrior-ness!!!

Liz,

The same situation happened to me. About 4 years ago I had a panic attack while driving on the interstate. I had to pull over because my hands felt like they were going numb and I was short of breath. I even called 911 because I was so panicked. Ever since then any long distance driving that has me isolated on an interstate or far from where I’m familiar give me crippling anxiety. I find sometimes talking on the phone over my Bluetooth while driving gives me some comfort as if someone is with me, but I still can’t go in excess of more than 20 miles without scaring myself and panicking. I used to commute for work every day over 2 hours round trip. No problems. I drove 14 hours once and didn’t have an issue. That split moment 4 years ago changed my life. No one I know understands or can relate.

Have you guys tried CBD? I used to have the same problems being fearful and having panic attacks while driving. i was introduced to CBD a year ago and it has worked for me. Now I feel calm, i no longer get the fear and panic attacks like i used to while driving. It's amazing stuff imo.

Please let us know what CBD oil you use, amount and where to get it. There are so many different companies who sell it. You never know what your getting is authentic or not.

This is the ADAA team here. I would strongly suggest that anyone interested in learning more about CBD and anxiety/depression, that you read the ADAA post on this topic by two anxiety experts. https://adaa.org/understanding-anxiety/cbd

I'VE HAD IT FOR YEARS AND STOPPED DRIVING YEARS AGO....I DON'T TRUST ANYONE DRIVING ME ANYWHERE AND AM NERVOUS AND SYMPTOMS OF RACING HEART AND THE REST OF THE SYMPTOMS. ESPECIALLY ON TOLL WAYS THAT I TELL ANY DRIVER TO NOT TAKE THE EXPRESSWAY NO MATTER WHAT TAKE THE LONG WAY AND IF THEY DON'T LISTEN TO ME I HAVE TO GET OUT OF THE CAR WHEN I ORDER THEM TO GET ON THE RAMP AND GO TO THE STREETS AND I PAY THEM AND CALL ANOTHER DRIVER. I TAKE LIMOS NOW FEW AND FAR BETWEEN FOR IMPORTANT MATTERS BUT NOT FAR ANYWHERE. I USED TO BE SUBJECTED TO THE RUBBERBAND THERAPY TRICK THAT WAS STUPID AND A WASTE OF TIME AND MONEY...."SAID TO 'SNAP' YOU OUT OF YOUR ANXIETY BUILDUP BY SNAPPING THE RUBBERBAND ON YOUR WRIST! TRIED IT AND ALL I GOT WAS A SORE BRUISED WRIST AND MY SELF-RESPECT!

Same...
It’s been 10 years. I was cut off by a truck on the hwy and since have struggled. At first I couldn’t drive on the highway and now I can’t even be a passenger. I’ve seen just about every therapist and tried medication. I’m frustrated bcuz I feel trapped and like my life has been taken from me. I use to drive everywhere without any fear and like others said one panic incident and it changes your life. No one gets it. Just get back on the highway like riding a bike. It’s not that easy otherwise I would have done it years ago. I hope there’s an answer.

Welcome the anxiety as its coming on....really want it to come...if you really mean it, it will lose its power almost instantly. Also, focus on really living in the moment. Living in the past and future is what gets those what if loops going in your head

You are so correct and it works, I was told this by a consultant when I was working as a nurse never thinking that one day out of the blue it would happen to me,panic attacks can not happen at all if your muscles are relaxed as it is impossible,next as you said (go with the flow) I just say to myself ok come on then and believe me it will not happen,your comment is the best I have read as it really works every time.

i have been driving since the age of 17... i went for my bus licence and started driving buses when i was 29.
my dog got knocked over and we rushed him to the vets they couldnt do anything but put him down that killed me... my boss who i worked for had me go into work 2 days later, i wasnt ready to go back to work but my boss was pushy.
thankfully my partner came with me that day and everything was fine up until my last drop off, i felt not well my partner told me to pull over which i did and thankfully i did as when i opend the bus door i fainted. ever since then ive been so scared to drive and i panic, i do go for short drives but i find it difficult to go futher 20miles... ive had no accidents yet the experience i had makes it so hard for me to forget and all i want to do is drive and enjoy it how can i get that bad experience to go

I get really dizzy when driving and it’s worse if I’m by myself, but when I get to where I’m going I’m fine after I walk around a minute and then I feel stupid for having the anxiety so bad .

I’m at my wits end! Anxiety with driving began 15 years ago. I’m now facing major depression, shame, etc. I truly want my life back.

I recently got in a small fender bender that was my fault. Sucks, stupid FL drivers... wasn’t really even my fault... but the worst part is my anxiety about driving has 100% returned. I feel the need to put the car in park while at a red light in fear of slipping again. My shoe lace got stuck and I couldn’t break.

I am hoping I don’t go back into having full panic attacks, where I have to pull the car over and feel like I may die. I feel your situation and understand unfortunately how you feel. Guess its at least nice to know im not alone:)

I understand how a driving g incident can make you nervous for future driving. I am nervous about after getting a ticket for passing a bus with flashing red lights and supposedly me and 5 others did it...and police stopped me. Gave me a ticket. Long story short I would never pass a bus stopped never one with flashing g red lights . And how could 6 drivers all do the same thing? Perhaps fr where the officer was it appeared that way .idk. but my husband called his cousin in the same station and asked him to ask the other officer to not process the ticket. He did the favor. Now I have extreme anxiety everytime I suppose to drive thru that town. I am over the top with anxiety. What it's...I try to do it afraid..talk myself thru it..but it's always present. Its overflowing g into me being nervous to driving period. I hate this. Gods word tells us that fear is a liar. This kind anyway. I am looking for an online support group (free) where ppl that understand and still push past it encouraging one another. But so far no luck.

I kinda get the same sort of feelings but I think you just gotta push be strong it’s all in the mind mate it’s get better

I feel the same way it's horrible feeling and its 99% of the time when I get in vechicle or someone else is driving feels like I'm trapped and cant breath and same thing I've had to pull over and get out of the vechicle to catch my breath feeling like I couldn't breath even tho I was. It's horrible and I'm glad I read this and someone else can relate.

I know exactly how you feel. Same here and it is so hard to explain to others.

I used to drive long distances, no problem. Also, driving 45 minutes to see friends or kids was a habitual thing. Now, I dislike driving together. I tell myself that it's because I've driven everywhere all my life, but now it's to a point it has become debilitating. I have anxiety disorder and MDD, but never had it for driving. This fear keeps me from many things I NEED to do.

Wow I’m 16 and I feel you on some levels😩😭😭😭😭 I just got my permit yesterday and had TERRRIBLE ANXIETY taking the test and had anxiety attacks and shaking until I finally fell asleep. But I could not sleep for the dear life of me😭 Today I drove to the store for the first time and I have no idea how to explain how I felt. I just have terrible,terrible anxiety. I feel like I’m in the car but like I am not. I feel so dizzy and my eye sockets hurt. I try to focus on the road as much as I can and do all these things at the same time, but I forget to some things and it gives me more anxiety. I don’t know how to explain it😭 I feel like I could just easily get in a car crash . I don’t trust myself to drive. I feel like I would repulsively do something crazy like drive super fast and purposely crash....😭 I need help but I don’t know. I have always dreamed of finally driving but I have ALWAYS been afraid. I don’t trust myself and I am extremely terrified. It’s just such an out-of-the-world experience/feeling😩... i don’t know if I want to drive again...I just don’t know what the heck to do with myself. I am still shaking and very anxious. Since yesterday I haven’t calmed down....anyway sorry for the long comment.

It's out mind that needs supervision not us. Our mind is running crazy, it's like having pets who are getting out of the cage and doing whatever they want to do. It is our responsibility to get things into their place. Yes, easier said than done, but, there is hope. First step, we gotta stop thinking big picture from this point of space and moment in time. What we need to is, take one step at a time and it means, thinking about it from day to day. Don't think what could happen in the future, just today. Ask yourself, what can I do today to feel just a little better about my driving? So far, I have driven pretty good. Maybe I had some faults, but that's okay, we all learn on our mistakes, it's okay, we are allowed to make mistakes, it's how we learn, it's part of the process. The most important step for taming the mind is meditation. It is how we get into control of our mind instead our mind rushing around without our consent. It takes time, but remember, step by step. Do relaxing meditation and when you feel absolutely relaxed bring into your mind picture of finished act. Imagine yourself getting out of the car happy, peacefully, feel content, feel proud of yourself, c'mon you know how it feels, be proud of yourself, stick to that feeling, feel in peace, look at your car how nice and shiny it is. Hear slamming of the doors, hear clicking of the keys, feel fresh wind and warm sun as you step out of the car, feel how the air feels so liberating and refreshing. Look at your car again, be proud how you did it, agin, for the thousandth time, smile, yes, smile to yourself, do it now in the meditation, oh! It feels so great, yes! Oh, it feels so... so good! It's good to be alive, it's good to feel this freedom! You are free, you feel free, it's so so liberating. Stil smiling? Smile again, look at your reflection, see how beautiful and happy you look, it's how you feel inside, too! You are looking at the victor, you are the winner, you are the conqueror, you did it, yes, you! You are strong, you are powerful! Breath in again, breath this fresh air! Look at that car. it's your buddy, your tool and you are the master, you are operating it! You have the power, feel that. It's such a wonderful invention! And you are the one who is driving it. You are wonderful driver, you always arrive everywhere safely. You know all the rules, you are confident, just look at your reflection, look how you're standing tall. That's you! You are the great driver, you are the safe driver. Now take a long breath in and breath out and feel free, feel proud, feel happy, feel confident, feel relaxed. Feel holding your car keys in your hand relaxed. Yes, you did it. Okay, this is one example how you could tailor your wished goal, how you can feel the reality of it. If you do this every night, no exception, just for two months, before going to sleep, I would love to hear from you again and probably drive with you if you were closer to me (I'm in Europe so I'm assuming you're in the USA). If possible, do it also in the morning too. Commit everything to it, just feel it. During the day when unwanted thoughts start coming, just remember the scene and the feeling, you have to feel it, recall how you feel once you succeeded. Focus on it, do it deliberately, put all energy to it. If you feel you lost it, you can't recall the feeling and feel overwhelmed, that's okay, let it be and let it go. Say to yourself that it's okay, that you know everything, you just started, it's getting better day by day. Hey, you passed the exam! I personally know people who took the test four times and so what? No big deal. Just relax before going for a drive. imagine yourself at the destination feeling good. And when you arrive to your destination congratulate yourself, be proud because you did it! Oh, you see? You're getting better at it. just go day by day. You did it for today, okay? You're doing it wonderfully. Take small steps, relax, be the one in control. Work on it. You see, our mind is untamed, and it's a full-time work to put it under little bit control. Don't put yourself down because you failed here and there, it's normal. Keep going, keep pushing. Don't let fear intimidate you, I know you can do it. I love you, I know how you feel because that's how I felt. I took driving licence test and didn't drive for 3 years, drove it few times, and came winter and I said, I don't want it now and made another pause for two years. I was crippled without the car, I was mad at myself because I had to go by foot in the heavy rain, and when it was very windy, I was frustrated because I had to loose so much time when using public transport and plus be surrounded with so many unknown people. But once I conquered those fears, I cannot explain how I feel free, liberated and grateful. It's whole new world for me. Yes, there are all kinds of drivers, who will honk because they have different driving style or are inpatient, mad, but who knows what is happening in their life, they maybe are left by someone, maybe they are in a hurry because their wife is in a labor, who could now? And second thing, you have the same right to be on the road as they are! Use your right! So what if they think "woman is driving" as something undesirable (as is happen to be, I am a woman, I had those fears, that they are monitoring my moves so that I make mistake and they can point out that I am a woman at the steering wheel)? But who cares what they think in that brief moment of time? I don't think about that at all now, I just focus on the road, and where I'm going to. It helps me to focus more on the road, thus relax more (I used to drive totally tensed) which automatically means I drive better. I feel good. It's not important what others are saying, it's important what we want us to say to ourself. Remember that! It is the most important conversation we have in the day- the conversation we have with ourself. It all may sound like a cliche, but try it, what the heck? Give it a month if you can't make it two months, but do it! It helped me. I wish to help you now. I have no idea how I landed on this page and why I'm writing this, but probably it may help someone, someday. I believe in you because I know you can. Because I believed in myself and I did it.

This happens to me as well. I am bipolar and have very similar symptoms. It sounds to me like psychosis, which can be mild (almost daydreamy) to very severe (a complete loss of reality). I’ve learned with me that my anxiety, depression and psychosis are all intertwined. Meditation and yoga have helped me control my anxiety and helped me control the separation from reality by connecting my mind with my body. I hope this helps! Good luck! ❤️

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).

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