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


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. 




Thank you for your coaching. It made me cry. I recently got a ticket but have always been a good driver. I also have a motorcycle license so I’m very considerate of others. If I were to cause harm to anyone I would not be able to function afterwards. Yours words are truth and I just wanted you to know, you did a good thing. I know if I can imagine the destination and take a step forward I will get my confidence back. When I was a child I would have terrible nightmares to the point of screaming that woke me. One time a big dragon type monster came at me and I had enough! Instead of running away, I turned around and screamed at the monster and it vanished. As they say it’s like falling off a horse, get right back on and take it easy and keep going. I just feel right now that I’m defying death each time I drive. I thank God each time I return home or make it to my destination. I’ve been driving for 43 years and been feeling like this for 2 weeks. I had to keep driving after the ticket because my husband just had surgery and depends on me to take him to therapy. Every time I see a police car I panic and think they are going to get me again. CBD also helps. I can recommend “CBDmd” oil drops, Quartz Trading Company drops/tincture and best of all Nasadiol which is a nose spray. Higher the mg fewer drops to take. It really does help but you don’t really notice the effect like a Xanax and it doesn’t make you feel like you crave it later. Plus the drops can be applied to weird bumps on skin and cures toothaches. It cured some kind of spot on my face that I’ve had for years and could not get rid of. I just need to remember to use it. The Nasadiol spray helps with Migraines and sinus infections. If I get on a sugar binge, I take some drops and it kills the yeast build up in my gut and the sugar cravings stop. I didn’t mean for this to turn out to praise CBD but I saw a few people asking about it. But really the coaching was so appreciated and I love you too because you care! B

Hi there. I drove today for the first time in my life in a big city; and I am feeling exactly like you. I am 27 and I can't stop shaking. I've always imagined myself driving and I just got my first car, but it is horribly stressful!! It is so frustrating because I imagine crashing or hitting someone all the time:( I know that I need to practice more, but my heart still racing and my hear hurts.

I'm reading your post now and feel exactly the same. I was curious as to whether all this time later you've managed to overcome the fear. I don't have the best teacher (my ex husband) and he gets very annoyed with me for driving to slow, stalling the car, etc... but I feel so panicked driven my mind stops working and I don't know what to do its like a mental breakdown where I forget everything I'm supposed to do. I have my licence but I'm not ready to drive I feel as its so scary I'm glad I found this thread because I feel so ashamed and scared about feeling this way which just boosts my anxiety levels even more :(

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).

I have been driving for years with no fears whatsoever, then out of nowhere last summer whiles driving down a hill I braked all of a sudden instead of slowing down, the car tipped forward. I was like what happened and then it happened again within a few minutes. I sort of brushed it off but in two days time it happened again and even veered off the road, and has still continued till this day. It went away for awhile but it's back in full force now, I can't go more than 25 miles I have to use Uber to school and work which is a shame since a have a sitting in the driveways. My Doc prescribed some medication but im not using it because if I stop the medication the symptoms will still be there.

No one, including myself, could really understand why I cant drive. I have tried to explain that I am scared to death I might kill someone... perhaps a even a child! I have never been in an accident. I never even had trouble with driving until I had children... once I had children, everything changed. It is very hard to explain to people and I am glad I read this. I feel less "weird". It DOES effect everything in your life, and people do not realize how real the TERROR it is for me.

My fear started when I had children too. I'd previously driven around the country. I have since realised my mother is a fearful driver and this was modelled for me as I grew up. I either decline long trips because we'll be going high speed or I go and suffer so terribly. So sad.

I feel so down and like a failure I seek for support from
My family instead they give me negative feedback example ,I can't.believe u can't drive there it's only 15 min away blah blah I feel I'm letting my kids and myself down as I'm limiting myself

My mom doesn't drive either. She won't even get her license. I wonder if this fear has been passed on? My older brother has also suffered with fear of driving. Like me, he can do short trips around town but if theirs too much traffic, it gets too overwhelming. I am so ashamed of this phobia, I fee like it's ruining my life.

I was wondering if it can be passed down as well. My mom didn't get her license until she was 36. I will be 35 in September and still don't have mine. I have 2 kids and put so much stress on my boyfriend by not driving. I feel like I am disabled because I do not drive.

I can't drive. My heart beat rises so much when i have to drive. I am 18 but trying to learn since i was 16. It's is really hard for me. I don't know why i have such kind of fear. But people don't understand and say that i am faking it. I really can't drive ?

Me too Aarushi. I always feel down when people don't even understand me. They even laugh at me. At 26 years old I still feel so scared to drive. Sometimes I feel so worse of myself.

I can drive locally for the most part and suffer from bad anxiety+panic attacks..I have a doomed and dread feeling if I'm driving or in the car. It's awful. I'm 30 and want to travel but this limits me.

I'm in the same boat as well Nana. At 26 I'm so embarrassed that I still can't drive. I work with teenagers and every day they talk about getting their permit or getting their license and I can't help but feel horrible about the fact that these teens have managed to so something I still haven't. It's a really crippling fear.

I am about to be 25 and I have internal anxiety with the thought of driving, I don’t want to drive but I have no choice

I am 25 year old male and have been struggling to get my license for years from a fear of driving. Not driving kills my confidence. I can't ask women out because I don't drive and hate myself for it. I have nightmares where any time I drive immediately crash off the side of a cliff and wake up right as I hit the ground. I always remember vividly feeling my body tense up as I'm falling through the air before I hit the ground. I wish I didn't have this fear like most other people so I wouldn't feel so lonely.

I’m also 18 and feel the same way! I get scared when I have to drive to a place that I am not familiar with. I make myself mad because I don’t know why I get like this! People always tell me to stop worrying and they say that I have to drive in traffic and to places I’m not familiar with and it scares the hell out of me! They don’t understand that I am truly terrified of driving. I recently had a panic attack in a Safeway parking lot because I turned right as a big truck was doing a u-turn and I almost got hit, head on, i was so scared. I don’t know if I should go on medication or do yoga or meditation? I’m not sure, but I need to change my ways before I start a professional career where I’m gonna have to travel to different areas every day ): I’m glad I’m not the only one having this problem.

I have tried facing my fear of driving and just tried to drive to a place I know how to get to and got so scared I wont drive there again. I have struggled since my drivers permit didnt get my actual lisence until I was 18. I am now 23 and still scared to drive to point I wont. A family member drives me :( its so frustrating because I am not even sure the cause.

I've had my permit for over four years now. It has been a slow but steady process and even now there are still things that I am not 100% with like reversing and parallel parking.

I am 17 and have been doing courses to get my liscense since I turned 16. I am almost done my classes although I get awful anxiety. I feel scared weeks before a practice and I always make excuses not to go. I am so afraid of hurting someone because they showed us videos of accidents on the first day of class.

You’re not alone I can’t drive too I feel I’m going to have a horrible breakdown I’m age 21 some my friends drive perfectly fine in the night

I have been trying to learn driving since 16 i am 33year of age and still to scared to drive i got my license jipeeeeee but i still think of all i did wrong and have this anxiety of what could have gone wrong or what can go wrong it feels like i have no control over the car. I even have nightmares of car crashes.

It’s hard I’m 34 an it that happens to me ... when I was young I loved driving . My heart beats fast as well an it’s hard to breath ... even if you know you ok an you will be fine feel like you gonna die every time ...

I myself feel Terrified of driving I have children and everyone in my family think I'm crazy or stupid ,just cause I'm not behind the wheel. it's not that I Know how to drive ,I'm just scared and I hate being trapped in my house I just don't know what to do.... I know how you feel.

Ever since I have had children I have an irrational fear of driving and a few other things. Picturing the worst happening I think the fear comes from either losing my children or something happening to me and I can't be there for them. I really have no idea.

This is exactly me. Plus add on the fear that I will accidentally cause and accident or hit someone and drive away without knowing it. Paranoid someday someone will come to my door and take me away fro. My children. I’ve never even had a wreck

Your fear of driving after you had children is exactly what happened to me. I used to drive all over the state, and even raced others in my BMW on the freeway. After two children it all changed. I don't do freeways, and been having to overcome just getting down the street. I would like to hear from those that have taken this overcoming class.