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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. 

 

 

 

I have battled anxiety for over 12 years now and ive overcome the social anxiety...going into grocery stores, the lines at airports, big open parties etc. Now this year, i have had a fear of driving on freeways, so i started taking back roads everywhere. i don't know why or how this started, but today i was on a back road and all think about is what if i lose control? what if i hit someone or crash. im so frustrated to the point where im constantly looking to make sure there is a place to pull off if i need to. does any one else feel this way? ive literally had no problems with driving...ive driven alone for hours and been fine. why now??

I've always loved driving. I was the one that always elected to do all the driving if I could. Never any fear of bridges or the like. Then one day 5 years ago I had my very first panic attack while stopped at a light. I didn't know what it was, went to the emergency room, that whole thing. Since then I get very anxious while driving and I cannot drive on freeways at all. I get panicked and am not breathing correctly, which in turn feels like I'm going to faint. It's awful. I know I'm supposed to face it head on and drive the freeways anyway but when I get closer to the on ramps I just panic. My husband has to do all of the long disgrace driving. It's so upsetting.

Holly, I feel for you. I have been having anxiety attacks on and off now for over 15 years while driving.
I have tried to reason many things that could be a cause. Like you I was always the one to drive, in fact I raced motorcycles in my younger days. I go through phases where I feel like I could drive a thousand miles with no problems at all and then there are many times I can't dive five miles on the freeway. To be honest one of the main reasons I am responding is because I have gone a fairly long time without having any problems until very recently. I can start out perfectly normal and looking forward to what I am heading to do then out of the blue it can strike. Rapid heart beat, breathing out of control, headache, neck ache, extreme dizziness, clinching the steering wheel until my hands hurt, flight response like I need to get out of the car and run, just all around panic. I have found some techniques that tend to help sometimes.... I will add and subtract with one hand using my fingers and concentrating on trying to fool myself. I will find and object in my console to flip around in my hand and count how many times I have rotated it. I know it sounds ridiculous but it actually does help to a certain degree. It also helps me to have another adult driver vehicle as a passenger. I have also been to a doctor many times after these have gotten out of hand for testing (blood work, CT, blood pressure ect.) and there is actually no other medical reason for it except for anxiety. During my phases of having this anxiety I avoid freeways, left turns, stop lights, if on the freeway I stay in the far right lane or I avoid travel all together. Yes you are correct it is very upsetting and I feel also degrading to a certain degree. Try to stay positive and good luck to you.

I'm in my late 50's now-when I was a young father-we did drives to Florida many times and I used to insist on doing all of the driving. Most people would tell me how boring the drive on I-95 was for them but I loved it. We even did a cross country drive in 2000. My issues started right after that-We planned another drive to Florida about 8 months after the cross country trip. Internally, I wasn't in the mood to do that drive again, But I figured I just drove cross country and back, so this is no big deal, But about an hour into the trip I started feeling anxious about the trip, I just didn't want to do it. Of course always insisting driving, I would never think of giving up the wheel to the wife, so along we went. I don't remember when it started. but I started to feel anxious and then had a dizzy spell and had to pull over. After it happened a second time, My wife insisted she drive. That was over 17 years ago and I still can't drive long distance without my body getting tense and stressed out to the point someone else has to drive. it's very upsetting to me.

I’m the same never had a problem with driving always suffered with aniexty then one day was driving along freeway nearly blacking out from panic attacks so now I can’t drive out of town I don’t know how to fix this so now I panic about having panic attacks while driving ☹️

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

Hi Ashley, my fear of driving just came out of nowhere and is getting worse. I have been to counseling , on medication, and even to hypnotherapy and it keeps coming back. My job is only 4 minutes from my house and I've been taking meds just to get there. I feel so weak when I drive like I'm going to pass out and my limbs go numb. This is terrible

I totally get where you are coming from. The tingling/dizziness/shortness of breath feels so real that I have actually wondered if I have some inner ear problem. However, it ONLY happens when driving....not even when riding with others. I feel helpless and embarrassed, and no one knows about it but my parents. Luckily I work 5 mins from home or I'd have a real problem.

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

Any help would be appreciated.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How do I find a therapist that can help with this? I live in a small town and don't know where to start. This happened out of nowhere with a panic attack and I haven't drove on a highway for 2yrs. I need my Independence back.

My hometown has seen numerous teen deaths from behind the wheel. In 2016, two of my classmates were killed and another was seriously injured on the road I used to live on in a car accident. I haven't been able to get over other car accidents I have been involved in as a passenger since then. I need to conquer my fears so I don't have to depend on others to get me around.

Most of my anxiety while driving is that I believe there are no drivers in the other vehicles. I imagine they are all robots and they will run me over if I don’t keep up. I feel like I have to dodge them. I can’t remember that the other vehicles have people in them that don’t want to get hurt either. Does anyone else suffer from this problem?

I'm 37 and I feel the same way. I drove for years on and off with my permit. Until 4 years ago I had a car accident. After the accident Ive decided not to drive anymore. Not driving has affected my lifestyle and its expensive to get around while relaying on car services. My teenagers have their learner's permits and Im afraid to let them drive. My mother never drove either.

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.

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