Fear of driving, also known as vehophobia, is a common phobia that can cause immense anxiety and stress for those who suffer from it. This fear can manifest in various ways, from mild anxiety when driving to a full-blown panic attack. It can be triggered by several factors, such as fear of the unknown, fear of the environment, fear of other drivers, fear of being in control, fear of being out of control, fear of being in an accident, or fear of being in a dangerous situation.
The fear can be so intense that it can prevent people from driving altogether or cause them to move erratically or with extreme caution. It is essential to understand that fear of driving is a real issue and that it can be treated.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) can help individuals overcome their fear of driving by assisting them in identifying and challenging their irrational thoughts and beliefs about driving. It can also help them to develop new coping strategies and to practice relaxation techniques. With the right help and support, individuals can learn to manage their fear of driving and eventually overcome it.
How did your fear of driving begin?
Can you recall any particular frightful incident involving you or someone close to you? Have you heard of terrible experiences from someone?
After being involved in a car accident, getting back behind the wheel can be a daunting experience. Fear of driving after a car accident is a common, completely understandable feeling. The fear can be so overwhelming that it can lead to avoiding driving altogether. This fear can be caused by various factors, such as physical injuries, post-traumatic stress, and even the fear of being in a similar situation again. Recognize that these fears are normal and take the necessary steps to get back on the road.
Whatever the cause of your fear of driving a car, that particular scary experience has snowballed into a major crisis – a driving phobia. You may suffer from palpitation, sweating, lightheadedness, short and irregular breaths, quivering hands, feelings of losing control, or thoughts of crashing.
These symptoms are a cumulative effect of the actual fear of driving (a tiny portion, to begin with) and the fear of having these symptoms. Unfortunately, it’s become a vicious cycle that keeps escalating.
The Vicious Cycle of Fear of Driving
- The first stage in this cycle is the actual fear of driving caused by any incident, real or imagined. A mere remembrance brings slight symptoms of sweat, trembling, or any of the above mentioned symptoms.
- In the second stage of this fear cycle, you fear that the symptoms will escalate. This fear of symptoms makes you even more afraid of driving, worsening your symptoms.
- In the third stage, you give in to your fear and give up driving. You avoid the situation.
- In the final stage, you experience a sharp fall in symptoms of fear because you have given up the idea of driving. This signals to your subconscious mind that avoiding driving is the way to reduce the anxiety of driving. Your belief that you fear driving gets reinforced.
How to Overcome the Fear of Driving in 6 Key Steps
The fear of driving, also known as driving anxiety, is a common issue many people experience. A traumatic experience, lack of understanding or exposure to driving, or general anxiety can cause it. However, the good news is that there are steps you can take to overcome your fear of driving. Here are six key steps to get over your fear of driving:
- Start small: Begin by driving in low-stress situations, such as empty parking lots or quiet residential streets. Gradually increase the difficulty level as you become more comfortable.
- Practice regularly: Repetition is essential when learning a new skill, including driving. The more you practice driving, the more confident and comfortable you’ll become behind the wheel.
- Take a driving course: Consider taking a driver education course or a defensive driving course. These courses will teach you the fundamentals of driving and how to handle different driving situations.
- Address your anxiety: If your fear of driving is related to anxiety, consider seeking help from a mental health professional. They can help you learn coping strategies to manage your anxiety and overcome your fear of driving.
- Use relaxation techniques: Practice deep breathing exercises or other relaxation techniques, such as yoga or meditation, to help you stay calm while driving.
- Gradually expose yourself to challenging situations: Once you’ve become comfortable driving in low-stress situations, gradually expose yourself to more difficult driving situations, such as driving in heavy traffic or on the highway. Remember to take things at your own pace and don’t rush yourself.
In summary, overcoming the fear of driving requires patience, practice, and a willingness to face your fears. By starting small, regularly practicing, taking a driving course, addressing your anxiety, using relaxation techniques, and gradually exposing yourself to challenging situations, you can overcome your fear of driving and become a confident and safe driver.
Signs of Driving Anxiety
- Live with anxiety or panic attacks while driving, with symptoms such as trembling, sweating, palpitations, dizziness, inability to take a deep breath, feelings of unreality, or thoughts of losing control, dying, or going crazy.
- Tired of the anxious, scary thoughts they have while driving?
- Dread the morning commute because of their driving anxiety or hate to drive alone (have you ever woken up with a knot in your stomach?)
- Have difficulty driving on highways or feel afraid because you can’t get off when you want to.
- Are uncomfortable on or avoid bridges while driving.
- Take prescription drugs to ease their anxiety about driving.
- Given up promotions or career advancement because of their fear of driving.
- Miss out on the joys and opportunities of life, shared family moments, and events that require travel.
Technique for Overcoming Fear of Driving
Sit back and relax on your couch to perform this exercise to overcome your fear of driving. It works by replacing the feelings of anxiety with those of peace in your subconscious mind.
Think of something enjoyable and beautiful. Recall a day when you felt happy, relaxed, and secure. Maybe it was on holiday with your family, at the beach lying in the sun, or when you first held your newborn.
Pick up something from your memory and relive those beautiful feelings, the smell, the touch, the sounds…
The key is vividness. Recall your blissful feelings vividly.
Now, just for two seconds, imagine yourself driving your car. Go back to your memories immediately. Drift into those feelings again.
After a minute or so, imagine yourself driving your car for no more than two seconds.
Revert to your blissful and “safe” memories immediately before allowing fear or anxiety to build up. Continue this cycle for about 20 minutes.
What’s going to happen is your brain will reprogram itself to associate feelings of peace and happiness with driving. The old programming will be broken. You shall be a different person within two weeks.
That was how to overcome the fear of driving using a brain reprogramming technique. You can easily overcome the general fear of going through this technique.
But it would be best if you discovered precisely what you are scared of while driving. And we will work a way through that too. Find out – is it a general fear of driving phobia, driving on freeways or bridges, a dread of busy intersections, or anxiety of how to park on crowded streets without smashing a light…?
How to Overcome Your Specific Fear of Driving
Once you find out what exactly scares you while driving, sit next to an experienced driver among your family or friends and observe how they do it.
Now apply the technique we discussed above as your partner drives through the scary bridge, intersection, freeway, or whatever gives you the fear of driving.
For example, consider that you have a fear of driving on freeways. Watch your partner go effortlessly and skillfully on the highway.
Absorb the situation. Sit back, relax, and think of something that makes you happy, relaxed, and peaceful. Close your eyes if need be.
Draw from your memories and fill your mind with those feelings. Not so difficult when you are in the passenger seat with your eyes closed.
Now once every minute, for two seconds each, open your eyes and imagine yourself in the driver’s seat driving the car. Continue this cycle for 15-20 minutes or until the feeling of fear dissociates with driving on the freeway. Open your eyes and continue to imagine yourself going with those feelings still in your mind.
Now switch places with your partner and practice. You’ll feel much better than going it all alone. You can overcome your fear of driving on freeways or bridges or anything else in this way.
What is your fear of driving over bridges anyway? Isn’t the bridge going to collapse? All you need to do is look straight ahead and follow a straight line behind the other cars in front of you. If you do this, you won’t hit the sides or crash into the separator. Practice the reprogramming technique, and you’ll be fine.
Take it to step by step. It’s a wise thing to do, especially if your fear of driving tends towards phobia. If you fear driving over bridges, first drive over tiny ones.
Then drive over those about the length of 1-2 blocks or more. Finally, proclaim victory over the fear of driving over bridges by driving over long bridges spanning the water. If you fear driving on freeways, take the first exit after ramping up.
Next time go further. Initially, stick to the rightmost lane. As you gain confidence, go one to the left.
You can find more of such techniques in the Driving Fear Program. Hundreds of people like you have overcome their fear of driving with this program.
The author has gone on from being a timid driver to an adventurous one and wants to share his tips with you.
- McLean CP, Anderson ER. Brave men and timid women? A review of the gender differences in fear and anxiety. Clinical Psychology Review. 2009;29:496–505. [PubMed]
- Gerardi M, Cukor J, Difede J, Rizzo A, Rothbaum BO. Virtual reality exposure therapy for post-traumatic stress disorder and other anxiety disorders. Current Psychiatry Reports. 2010;12:298–305. [PubMed]
Gold SD, Marx BP, Soler-Baillo JM, Sloan DM. Is life stress more traumatic than traumatic stress? Journal of Anxiety Disorders. 2005;19:687–698. [PubMed]
- AARP – How to Overcome a Driving Phobia
- ADAA – Overcoming the Fear of Driving
- Scientific American – How to Conquer Your Fear of Driving
13 thoughts on “How to Overcome Fear of Driving A Car”
I have a pretty serious fear of driving my car. It all started when some man in a white pickup truck tried to cut me off when two lanes merged into one, then he followed me into my neighborhood and got out of his car, and threatened to kill me for about 30 minutes. He was twice my size (definitely overweight) and liked Harley Davidson motorcycles. He talked about how he would tie a cinder block to my foot and throw me in a lake and how easy that would be. At this point, I was scared out of my mind. I surely thought I was going to be killed by this man.
Another incident came when someone on a motorcycle cut in front of me by using the shoulder to get to the front of the pack to a red light, so he could be first when it turned green. He ended up looking both ways at the intersection and ran the red light. I wanted to get the license plate of this guy and report him to the local police for such a major traffic offense, but then the motorcyclist threatened me through my open window and said “you don’t want to mess with someone like me”, and then proceeded to speed up and pass six or seven other cars by using the shoulder again.
Then, one time, I was getting into my car to go leave for a movie. I had parked it at a school to go play football with a buddy of mine on the field….the school, which was nearby the onramp to go to the next town, had a good movie theater. As I was leaving to go catch the movie with my friend, a man dressed as a police officer approached my car when I was pulling out of the parking lot. He jumped right in front of my car and I swerved to get out of the way. I didn’t know if he was a policeman or not because he didn’t show me any badge, nor did I see a police cruiser nearby, and his actions of attempting to stop the car with his own body seemed like it could have been just a weirdo on drugs, so I freaked out. As I swerved around him to get out of his way, he threw his maglight into my back passenger window, which shattered and cut my face, the maglight sitting in my back seat. I didn’t know what to do, so I went home. I ended up realizing he was a legitimate police officer when my friend, who was stopped at gunpoint by the same officer, allowed the policeman to use his cell phone to call me, and he left a message saying he wanted his maglight back. I invited the police over to my house and they thought I was attempting to run over the police officer, but I honestly didn’t want to do that, that’s why I swerved out of the way. When they were interrogating me, asking why I didn’t stop, I told them honestly that I didn’t think the man was a real cop, since I saw no badge or police vehicle (until they came over to my house).
All three of these events have culminated in me not wanting to drive, anymore. I haven’t driven my car, or any other car, in almost a year, for fear of driving it. Also, I have a couple of speeding tickets, which will stay on my record permanently if I get another one before I turn 23. I am 21 right now.
I am currently taking 4mg of clonazepam and 200mg of seroquel at night, because I have lingering fears about that man in my first story, coming to my house to kill me, so I can never sleep at night, and I had some really bad panic attacks, ending in either losing my lunch, having full body shakes for fifteen minutes at a time while also feeling as if I am going to have a heart attack and I have trouble breathing. Sometimes the panic attacks are so bad that I literally cannot move. It’s like I’m playing dead, except shaking all over. Since taking the medication I have been prescribed, I haven’t had many panic attacks–I usually only have them if I am in an unfamiliar setting with people I don’t trust well. I also have test anxiety, which means I cannot fall asleep the night before a test.
So…having this fear of driving has caused me to come up with a whole round of excuses as to why I “can’t” drive, that I tell friends, who want to hang out and seem a bit perturbed that I don’t have my own form of transportation. Most of my days I live out at home since I’m terrified to go out by myself in my car unless I am picked up by a trusting friend or driven by my parents or older sister. It makes me feel as if I have no independence whatsoever. It also doesn’t help that my car looks like hell since I dented the front end badly and never replaced it (don’t have enough money/don’t want to do it/would rather buy a different car), when my foot slipped off the brake pedal at a red light and hit the gas while I was in 1st, causing me to slam the back of the car in front of me.
I think the only way I am going to start driving again is if I get a new car–the old one is haunted with bad memories.
Hello, I am 26 with a family and have let my fear of driving take over our whole life. We have had to miss out on a lot because of my fear. I have never even tried to get my license. But recently I have decided to overcome my driving phobia. I hope to do so by trying anything possible to achieve this. would love to hear others advice and stories.
practice, practice, practice. some of you have been in accidents, thank god everyone’s ok. I would look at it like riding a bike, you fell but it was no big deal, you gotta get back up, I am conquering my fear of driving one day at a time, it’s working, I feared going the wrong way or making a mistake on the road, that would cost me my life or someone else for that matter, however, what we are dealing with here is negative risk. every day we take risks, just depends on how you look at it. risk is in the eye of the beholder, i agree with the article above, you gotta change your thinking, and you all can do it, hell i can and will do it. think about about how many risks you all take each and everyday, you be surprised how you managed to survive : ) after you do that its time to get busy, get a freind or pay for practice driving classes tell the instructor hey im afraid, let him show you the techniques calmly, and then do it over and over and reassure yourself, that you can do this. has anyone here ever looked at other drivers, I think its sometimes hilariously, they come in all shapes and sizes some look clueless, others look confident, still others look cautious, and so on, bottom line they are out there doing it while we are stuck in fear, fear is good but common we gotta live! posting this has just helped me : )
I’m afraid of the whole experience of driving. One, I’m afraid that since I’ve waited so long I’m embarrassed that I’m just now starting to drive and I’m 26. Two, I’m afraid of being responsible for other people on the road and in the same vehicle as me. Third, I’ve been in 3 wrecks. And last but not least I’m embarrassed that my skills aren’t where they should be for my age……
Fear controls me while I am driving as I am a beginner driver I had one accident small one but I couldn’t sleep that night thinking of it, parking is my big problem so I guess I will follow that program to overcome my driving fear
I have a fear of driving.. I always think someone is going to crash into me or I am going to crash into someone else.. I did these things and it helped me a lot. I know have more confidence in my driving thank you!!
Hello, last year I was in an accident where our vehicle flipped over 3 times. I am now 17 years of age and I should be driving already, some days I want too but other days I can’t bring myself to even think about it without having a panic attack. What should I do?
Hello, I am Dan, a driver’s ed student who just discovered there is something hindering me from doing well, driving anxiety. I have only been in a one-car crash, and it wasn’t fatal, however, as a driving student, I have responsibilities I can’t meet because of my driving anxiety. I am kind of always thinking that yes, Crashes are a Reality, which, they are, so maybe how can I stop thinking about crashes?
Thanks for reading. I hope to hear back.
Hello! I`ve stopped my entire life because of this fear.I`m 33 years old and now I’ve finally sucked it up and went in for my beginner’s permit. I feel foolish, stunted, and emotionally immature. I do suffer from a general anxiety disorder, so this is going to be a major milestone for me..But the fact that my actual driving skills are okay is what keeps me going forward.
When I am driving in the morning, when I reach a tunnel, I am feeling that my vehicle is moving towards right also I am thinking that my car will meet an accident. it is in the same place almost all the time and also in highways.
I have been suffering from this anxiety for some time now, I usually freeze and also feels like I will crush into the car approaching from my right-hand side. I experienced the same thing again this morning and the only thing that saved me was prayer. I started praying. I think it is about time I seek professional help.
Hi, I’m terrified of the idea of driving. I’m 23 years old and I can’t help feel fear when I’m driving. I don’t know what to do. Really,, I don’t know; and the worst part of all of this is the fact that as long as the days passed, I get myself craziest about these. I mean I already crash my car against a pole, another car, I also crash my mom’s car…. helppppp I think that I never going to learn,
Hello, I have had a fear of driving for years. I don’t like freeways busy roads and bridges.. it has come to the point that I have to pull over and go back home.. and I will not go on freeways I freak out and I have to get off at the next exit. I’m a Military wife and I have to take my hubby to and from work and I need help with my fear of driving.
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