Everyone experiences a fear of driving from time to time, for a mix of rational and irrational reasons. The roads can be scary: recent studies show that millions of Brits are too scared to learn in the first place. However, problems arise when the fear of driving makes the task itself harder and more dangerous. Conquering the irrational fear of driving, and understanding reasonable caution, offers drivers new and old a happier, safer time behind the wheel.
What is a Fear of Driving?
Understanding your fears is the first step to conquering them. Like any phobia, a fear of driving affects every sufferer differently. The fear ranges from mild stress and aversion to debilitating driving phobia. Locating yourself somewhere on this range, and communicating that to a driving instructor, provides a great first step to conquering a fear of driving. Recognising driving anxiety’s various symptoms also helps understand their concerns and work through their phobias.
Recognising the Symptoms of Driving Anxiety
Driving brings various physical and emotional effects, but particularly for new drivers. When combined, these issues appear in minds and bodies as worrying and dangerous symptoms.
- Irregular Breathing – Fear of driving can create shortness or heaviness of breath, leading sufferers to feel faint or dizzy.
- Increased Heart Rate – Like other phobias and anxieties, fear of driving makes sufferers’ hearts race.
- Mood Swings – Along with the famous road rage, driving-related stress stirs up emotions in many drivers. Unexpectedly quick anger, tears, or irrational outbursts can all stem from different forms of driving phobias.
- Claustrophobia or Agoraphobia – As an enclosed space travelling between large open spaces, cars create fears of both in anxious drivers. Some experience a sudden need to leave the vehicle, feeling trapped inside. Others feel overstimulated by large junctions, busy roads, and unfamiliar areas.
- Tunnel Vision and Disorientation – One of the more dangerous symptoms of driving anxiety, tunnel-vision, occurs when physical and mental symptoms combine, and anxious drivers become fixed directly ahead and lose their peripheral vision. When increased breathing and heart rate symptoms make drivers disoriented, they become far more likely to drive dangerously. They should therefore try to calm themselves or take a break to relax.
What Causes a Fear of Driving
The irrational fear of driving, like any phobia, does not share one common cause in every instance. However, certain events and behaviour patterns turn rational caution into irrational, symptomatic fear.
Car crashes and traffic accidents scare drivers, spreading anxiety beyond those directly involved. If an anxious driver suffers a crash, or even hears about one, this can grow into an irrational phobia in their mind. Trauma can even stem from aggressive road users nearby. Large, imposing vehicles and their angry drivers tend to stress people out.
Inexperience or Unfamiliarity
New drivers often suffer from anxiety around difficult or scary tasks, from steep hill starts to busy multi-lane roundabouts. Britain contains some of the most tricky and unpredictable roads in the world. Most towns and cities have famously tough slopes or junctions, which new drivers might overthink and fear when they first experience them. Driving instructors often expect some degree of trepidation in their new pupils, but this occasionally develops into serious anxiety.
On top of its tricky roads, Britain throws plenty of inclement weather at its road users. Driving theory tests teach new drivers to change their stopping distance when on wet roads, but not about the stress and anxiety such conditions can cause. Mist, hail, darkness, and glare can all trigger a fear of driving which anxious drivers must manage in order to travel safely.
How to Manage a Fear of Driving
Therapeutic Anti-Anxiety Techniques
Simple anti-anxiety tips help manage a fear of driving, as they help any fear. Regular breathing exercises and memorable driving rhymes and tips focus a driver’s mind and keep fears at bay. When these tips work and drivers complete a task they feared, rewards and verbal support builds trust. This helps break the link between driving and anxiety.
Practice Makes Perfect
Spending time behind the wheel with a driving instructor gives road users the tools to combat their fear of driving. It helps brush aside rustiness and apprehension, increasing confidence and road familiarity over time. Increasing driving time also helps desensitise drivers to their phobia as a form of exposure therapy. Experiencing the full range of road layouts and manoeuvres ensures that anxious drivers feel prepared and comfortable behind the wheel.
Don’t be Hungry, Caffeinated, or Hungover
Healthy minds and healthy bodies make for safe, relaxing driving. Regulate heart rate and anxiety sweats with responsible eating and drinking habits to focus on the task at hand.
Drive with Reassuring Company
Recruiting experienced, communicative, and understanding driving instructors often helps solve a fear of driving. Explaining away concerns and describing effects aloud helps driving instructors to work with you to conquer your fears. Talkative co-pilots guide you through problematic areas of driving and let you take breaks to relax when required. This helps conquer the fear of driving in a safe and constructive way.