Heard of the fear of snakes, heights, lightening or water? Well, just like any other phobia, there is also the fear of driving called amaxophobia. Does it just feel overwhelming to you getting behind the wheel, or does your heartbeat increase and your hands get sweaty immediately you get behind that wheel? You could be having a fear of driving. And the truth is that you are not alone, so many people struggle with this phobia.
Different driving scenarios could influence the reason behind the fear of driving. Some people just don’t like driving on highways, while others can’t drive a smaller car, or it could be because a certain incident triggers bad memories about driving. Whatever the reason, driving phobia is very real, and just like any other phobia, needs the attention to help victims deal with it and hopefully finally enjoy taking a ride or two.
For places with no public transport where the only means to move around is by driving, some people may miss out on participating in important professional and social activities because of this phobia.
At the end of this article, we hope that you will understand why people with anxiety fear driving and how to help them if you know them or if you are one of them.
Why do people with anxiety fear driving?
Driving anxiety could come as a result of one not being confident with their driving skills. When one is on the road, they think that other drivers are better than them. This makes them doubt their driving skills and think that they will make mistakes once they get a hold of that steering wheel.
Some people may have experienced traumatic events like having a panic attack or being involved in a road traffic accident. This makes them relieve these traumatic incidences once they get behind the wheel again. This is very dangerous because there is a high probability of that same incident happening if they start thinking about it while driving.
Whatever the case, these people will always try to find an excuse not to drive for the fear that something negative might happen while they are driving. Some of them will even prefer taking longer routes so that they avoid certain areas like tunnels or bridges or even traffic. This is because they always assume that the worst will happen.
Assuring them that the underlying conditions can be worked on and that they could regain their confidence for driving could go a long way in helping them tackle this phobia.
10 reasons people with anxiety hate driving
There are so many reasons people with anxiety don’t like driving, but here is a list of the top ten reasons:
1. Fear of fatality
This is a major trigger for people with anxiety when it comes to driving. The whole idea of one’s life ending while driving is just so exacerbating.
This could be triggered by a previous incident of being involved in a near death experience while driving or knowing of someone close to you who died through a road traffic accident.
It could also be as a result of watching many movies or documentaries that have accident scenes where occupants end up losing their lives.
2. Not comfortable with their driving abilities
Some people even after going through a driving school or having received driving lessons from a qualified instructor still cannot get on the road on their own.
Such people could still drive but when with someone in order to boost their confidence. The issue comes in when they are supposed to drive on their own. They have no faith in their own driving capabilities and think that they will make mistakes while on the road.
3. Driving in a new place
Being in an unfamiliar territory can be very unsettling whether driving or not. It can be very difficult trying to read the map as you drive for the fear of getting lost or the fear of the unknown.
This would even be worse for someone who’s gotten lost before or who has undergone an unfortunate incident in a new place like being carjacked or their car running out of gas. The whole idea of being in an unfamiliar territory makes it worse since you know no one you can ask for help should something happen unlike if you were in a place you are familiar with.
Some people even fear asking for directions because they are not sure if the help they get will be genuine or not or they just have general trust issues.
Being far away from familiar territories, it makes them dread encountering a problem where they have no control over.
4. Previous panic attacks
People who have a previous history of panic attacks may want to do anything in their power to avoid experiencing that again. This is even worse if the panic attack led to an unfortunate incident like causing an accident because one could not calm down during an episode.
You would definitely be thinking what if you get a panic attack while driving alone or if stuck in traffic? Some of the symptoms associated with a panic attack like diarrhea, difficulty in breathing or even nausea can be very unsettling when one thinks about the whole ordeal.
5. Heavy traffic
Some people dread at the mention of traffic jam. People with anxiety find traffic jams to be very confined and messy spaces that pose a potential hazard in case of an emergency.
What if something happens and I can’t get out of this place? What if I get late to my meeting? What if I run out of fuel or gas? These are just some of the many questions people with anxiety grapple with that make them dread driving and finding themselves stuck in traffic.
It can also seem very intimidating having to scramble for lanes with other drivers and this situation could be made worse if the other drivers are constantly honking for you to move because they think you are not keeping up with the car in front.
6. Fear of losing control
This is especially common when on a highway. The pressure to go fast on a highway is real but could be very uncomfortable for people with anxiety because of the fear of losing control.
Faster drivers on the highway may prove intimidating and your attempt to keep up with the speed on the highway may give you the creeps. Going slow on a highway could be an option, but should you choose to do this, then make sure you alert other drivers by putting on your hazard lights. Make sure you note any exits should you need to take a breather.
7. Witnessing a traumatic event
Some scenes never tend to get out of our minds once we witness them. Witnessing events like accidents and other fatal incidences like brutal muggings could pose as a deterrent to people with anxiety from getting behind that wheel.
Every time they think about driving, they think of the worst happening like being involved in an accident or being carjacked. This could have happened to them or even to strangers where they just happened to witness the incident.
8. Driving in intense conditions
Certain intense conditions like driving in rain or snow could instantly creep some people out. These are the kind of drivers who would be comfortable driving in conditions that are deemed ‘normal’, but when confronted by a situation where the normal conditions are absent, they will try their best to avoid going behind the wheel.
Other unsettling conditions could include driving at night, over a bridge or through a tunnel because they think of the worst happening during these conditions.
9. Other aggressive drivers
Driving on some of these roads can make you think that some drivers are literally mad. The constant beeping and honking by other drivers either who want to overtake or signaling you to move faster can be very uncomfortable for people with anxiety.
This could also happen when in traffic and some drivers are trying to change their lanes forcefully sometimes forcing you out of your own lane. Such situations can be very uncomfortable for people with anxiety and might deter them from driving again when they replay these scenarios in their head.
They say that when driving, imagine that you are the only sane driver on the road and all the other drivers are insane. It makes it easier to anticipate some behavior and know how to deal with it.
10. Exaggerated Safety Behavior
This is a very common behavior for anxious drivers who are never sure if they have put all the measures in place while driving.
They will be constantly checking to see if their seat belt is still on or if the fuel or gas is still sufficient or if the mirrors are well aligned. Even after confirming severally that these conditions are okay, they will still check just to be ‘sure’. This behavior makes it so hard for some of them to fully concentrate and only works to increase their anxiety. It’s even worse if something happened before like an incident that could have been avoided if all safety measures were in place.
It’s good to ensure that you have observed all road safety measures but don’t make it a habit to keep on confirming and assuming that something could happen as this just heightens the anxiety levels.
How to overcome the fear of driving
Working on the triggers that make you anxious while driving is the first step to dealing with the phobia. Your therapist may use cognitive behavioral therapy to address this. With the help of a professional, one can learn different relaxation techniques to apply when they find themselves behind the wheel.
This could include having a favorite music playlist to play while driving. Familiar and music of your choice could play a role in calming your nerves and giving you something else to focus on that is not your anxiety.
Your therapist may also suggest exposure therapy where you try to face the triggers head on as you practice overcoming them. This could include going out to those new places or driving when it’s raining. It could prove to be a very uncomfortable experience but with time, you will start getting comfortable driving in these conditions that you once deemed unpleasant.
Anxiety medication could be prescribed by a qualified professional however, this is not a permanent solution. They only work to try and calm you during the different episodes. Looking for a long-term solution is the best remedy as this makes sure even when you are in a situation where you can’t access medication, you no longer have to worry about your situation escalating.
Attending support groups with people who share your experiences can prove to be very beneficial. They could be both physical or online meetings, but the goal remains the same. Such meetings make it easier for other members to empathize with your experience and even offer suggestions that could help you overcome this phobia.
Re-take driving classes or defensive driving courses
This could prove very beneficial for people who feel like their driving confidence is impacted by their driving skills. Going through the course again with a skilled and understanding driving instructor could boost the confidence for driving.
Defensive driving classes on the other hand will teach them how to react to certain situations while on the road, like if they encounter an aggressive driver or in case of a tyre burst.
A driving phobia can very much mess up with one’s life, both socially and professionally because some activities depend on one having to move around. But that is not to say that people with a driving phobia aren’t justified. Acknowledging that their reasons for this fear are real is the first step in understanding them and finding a way to help them overcome this fear.
However, it should be noted that, not driving does not mean no accidents or fatalities. Accidents on the roads could happen in other ways like being hit as a pedestrian. I know that does not sound comfortable, but it should help put things into perspective.
It takes time to overcome the fear of driving and we need to understand this even as victims of this phobia try to work on it. The trick is to start this slowly by slowly under supervision until one is able to finally do it on their own.