How to get over fear of driving

12 minute read Published on Jun 11, 2024 by BrokerLink Communications

Portrait of astonished speechless girl holding steering wheel isolated on violet background.

Whether you’re a first time driver or an experienced driver, there’s no denying that getting behind the wheel can be anxiety-inducing. After all, there are many things that can go wrong. For example, you could hit an animal on the highway, your car could break down, or you could get into a car accident with an animal or even another driver. Thankfully, there are ways to avoid these issues and to make driving less stressful. Below, we explain what driving anxiety is and offer some tips to help you overcome your fear of driving.

Driving anxiety explained

What is driving anxiety? First off, it’s important to note that driving anxiety is something that a lot of people experience. In fact, studies show that the majority of motorists experience some form of anxiety related to driving, particularly when they are required to perform specific manoeuvres, like parallel parking, U-turns, merging onto highways, changing lanes, and more. In other words, if you experience anxiety when you are behind the wheel, you are not alone.

Symptoms of driving anxiety range from mild symptoms, such as having anxious thoughts, to severe symptoms, such as panic attacks. These symptoms may creep up while you’re driving, but they can also begin before you get into your car and continue long after you’ve arrived safely at home. For this reason, driving anxiety can be disruptive to your daily life, which is why it’s so important to overcome it if you can.

The most common causes of driving anxiety

A few of the most common causes of driving anxiety or driving phobias are as follows:

  • Experiencing a car accident in the past (whether behind the wheel or as a passenger)
  • Witnessing another car accident or having a car accident happen to someone in your life
  • The possibility of getting lost or stranded while driving without access to help
  • Driving through heavy traffic
  • Driving through a major city or on unfamiliar roads
  • Lack of trust or confidence in one’s driving skills

Telltale signs that you are fearful of driving

If you aren’t sure whether you have driving anxiety or even a phobia of driving, read through the following list of symptoms. If the symptoms below resonate with you, whether they happen when you think about driving or when you’re actually behind the wheel, it’s possible that you have driving anxiety:

  • A noticeable sense of panic when behind the wheel
  • Avoiding contact with other vehicles on the road
  • Sweaty palms
  • Disorientation and confusion
  • Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath
  • Dizziness
  • Racing heartbeat
  • Panic attacks

What driving manoeuvres and conditions are motorists most fearful of?

Studies show that drivers tend to be most fearful of the following manoeuvres and conditions:

  • Merging onto highways
  • Backing up or reversing
  • Passing other vehicles
  • Changing lanes
  • U-turns
  • Making left turns

Why do people get anxious about driving?

People get anxious about driving for a variety of reasons. A few of the most common reasons that a driver might become anxious or fearful of driving are as follows:

History of anxiety or other mental disorders

If you have a history of anxiety or another mental illness , you may be more prone to becoming an anxious driver. Battling anxiety in your daily life can make you feel anxious about driving once you start doing so.

Having a driving-related phobia

Having a driving-related phobia can also make you more likely to be an anxious driver. A driving-related phobia could be a fear of getting lost, a fear of dying, a fear of losing control, or a fear of being trapped in a small space. You could even have a phobia that is most directly related to driving, such as amaxophobia, which is the fear of being in a motor vehicle, or vehopobia, which is the fear of driving.

A lack of confidence behind the wheel

A lack of confidence behind the wheel is one of the most common reasons that a person might become anxious while driving. If you are a first time driver who is trying to become a better driver, then chances are you might still be nervous on the road. Even if you have driving experience, a lack of confidence could make you believe that you aren’t a good driver, which in turn, could impact your driving abilities. Thankfully, there are several good driving habits that you can adopt if you take the time to practice them.

Past negative driving experiences

One final reason that you might have a fear of driving is due to past negative driving experiences. If you’ve been involved in a car accident, whether you were a driver or a passenger, you might have developed a fear of driving. As a result, driving in general or driving in dangerous conditions, like in bad weather or at night, could trigger your anxiety. It has been proven that serious car accidents can result in psychological injuries, such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Tips to overcome your fear of driving

If you want to overcome your fear of driving, you can do so in a few years. These vary from mental exercises that can help you alleviate the anxiety you feel to safe driving tips that will reduce your odds of getting into an accident, which can also lessen your driving anxiety over time:

Try to identify where your anxiety or fear of driving stems from

When trying to overcome your fear of driving, the first step is to understand where it stems from. Since past negative experiences can be a precursor to driving anxiety, take a moment to think about the time you’ve spent in and around cars in the past. Whether you were a passenger, driver, or bystander, try to remember if you’ve had any driving-related experiences that may be making you anxious. Perhaps a parent was involved in a car accident or you saw a particularly traumatic collision depicted in real life or in a movie. You might also have another anxious driver in your household, such as a parent, grandparent, or sibling, which could also be leading to your anxiety.

Understanding where your driving anxiety stems from can help you cope with it. If you don’t want to do it on your own or you find that your anxiety isn’t lessening over time, consider seeking help from a mental health professional, such as a therapist, counsellor, or psychologist.

Reframe your anxious thoughts

Another tip, if you want to overcome your fear of driving, is to reframe the anxious or negative thoughts that enter your mind while driving. For example, if you’re an anxious driver, then chances are various intrusive thoughts pop into your head when you’re behind the wheel, such as the scary possibility of getting lost or being involved in an accident. While it’s normal to have these thoughts from time to time, it’s important not to let them dictate your day-to-day life, especially since driving is a daily activity for many people.

By reframing your anxious thoughts, you might be able to overcome your driving fears. To do so, when a negative thought pops into your head, such as: Merging onto the highway is so scary. What if I get into an accident? Take a deep breath and think about all of the times that you’ve successfully merged onto the highway in the past. Reminding yourself of past accomplishments and challenges that you’ve overcome can be a powerful tool in overcoming any kind of anxiety.

Keep your mind from wandering by staying focused on the road

The next tip to help you get over your driving anxiety is to keep your mind occupied. While driving, the best way to do this is by keeping your focus on the road. In fact, focusing 100% of your attention on the road is a safe driving tip for all types of drivers. With anxious drivers, the benefits are twofold. Not only can focusing on the road prevent your mind from wandering and allowing negative or intrusive thoughts to enter, but it can also reduce your odds of getting into an accident since you will have a good idea of what’s going on around you at all times.

If you’re having trouble keeping your mind focused on the road, try counting in your head or consider turning on the radio or putting on a podcast. This will distract you while still allowing you to remain focused on the road, scanning all lanes around you, glancing in your side-view and rear-view mirrors, and checking your car blind spots.

Use relaxation techniques

Relaxation techniques are another powerful tool that an anxious driver might be able to use to overcome their fears. The truth is that anxiety can manifest itself in physical symptoms in your body, including increased heartbeat, sweaty palms, tension in the neck or head, and even shortness of breath. One way to alleviate anxiety is to challenge these physical symptoms by using relaxation techniques that calm your body’s nervous system. When your nervous system is calmed, it’s easier to keep the anxious thoughts at bay.

There are a wide variety of relaxation techniques out there, and it might take some trial and error to find the one that works best for you. Ultimately, the techniques that work for you should target the specific physical manifestations of anxiety that you feel.

For example, if you become tense in the neck, head, or shoulders when you’re anxious, try relaxing your muscles by gently reducing the intensity of your grip on the steering wheel and unclenching your jaw. From there, work your way up and down your body, releasing any tension that you notice.

Other relaxation techniques include breathing exercises, listening to calming music, or making a mental list of what you see around you (you can also say this aloud).

Face your fears head-on

Facing your fears head-on is another option that can help you get over your driving anxiety. That said, this technique may not be for everyone, but it can be worth trying if you’ve exhausted all the others.

Facing your fears head-on will certainly take you out of your comfort zone, but it does offer the benefit of proving to yourself that you have what it takes to be a good driver.

Specifically, if you have fears about getting lost or driving in unfamiliar places, start driving farther and farther away from home. Driving in towns or neighbourhoods that you’re not familiar with can show you that there’s nothing to fear.

Alternatively, if you have a fear of driving during rush hour or on highways, then consider doing just that. Start by driving on the highway during quieter times of the day to allow yourself more space and time to merge and change lanes safely. Once you get more comfortable with this, attempt a short highway trip during rush hour or on a busy Saturday afternoon.

The more driving experience you gain, especially when that experience is centred on specific driving fears you have, the more confident you will become. Knowing that you are developing your driving skills and overcoming these challenges repeatedly might prevent your anxiety from being triggered in the future.

Hire a driving instructor

Yet another tip we can offer if you want to get over your fear of driving is to hire a driving instructor. Driving instructors are seasoned professionals who not only know the rules of the road and the best driving skills to adopt but also know how to deal with people who are terrified of getting behind the wheel.

After all, driving instructors often work with new and young drivers who have little to no driving experience. These drivers tend to be the most nervous, and knowing this, you can expect a driving instructor to have lots of patience.

A driving instructor will verbally guide you through driving in real-time. They will also make you aware of any potential risks or hazards on the road. Having an expert beside you can help you feel calmer and allow you to be more comfortable driving, especially at the start.

Don’t start with rush hour driving

If you’re a new driver who recently got your licence, then it might be best to start slow. This means waiting to tackle more difficult or anxiety-inducing driving conditions, such as rush hour. Although there can be merit to facing your fears head-on, you don’t want to do so before you’re ready. For this reason, we don’t recommend beginning your driving experience during rush hour. Instead, we recommend taking the necessary time to build up your driving skills so that you will feel safer and more confident when it comes time to face more challenging road conditions.

For instance, if it’s your first time behind the wheel, start in a parking lot or on a residential street with minimal traffic. Ideally, drive during the day when there is still light, and visibility is increased, but not during the hours of 8:00 am to 10:00 am and 3:00 pm to 7:00 pm Monday through Friday when traffic is usually at its peak.

When driving on the highway, start by staying in the right lane

If highway driving has always been particularly scary for you, then take it slow while on the highway. Don’t drive on the highway for the first time during rush hour, and focus on merging, which can be one of the most anxiety-inducing aspects of the highway. Once you’ve successfully merged onto the highway, there is no reason that you must change lanes. If you’re more comfortable staying in the right lane, do just that. Drive slowly and keep right until you wish to exit. As you build your confidence and merge, it starts to become less scary, so you might work your way up to changing lanes or using the left lane to pass other cars.

Leave plenty of space around you

If you’re nervous about getting into a car accident, then leaving a safe distance between cars can help you alleviate this fear. Why? The more space you leave, the more time you will have to react and the lower your odds of getting into a car accident.

Experts generally recommend three seconds’ worth of space. When you get used to this rule, you might be able to judge it alone by sight, but in the meantime, choose a stationary marker on the road. This could be a road sign, tree, or overpass. When the car in front of you reaches your chosen marker, start counting. Take note of when your own car reaches that marker. If you reach the marker before you count to three, then you are following too closely. However, if you’ve counted to three or beyond by the time your car reaches that marker, then you are travelling at a safe following distance.

Remember to give yourself extra space the faster that you are travelling and when weather conditions impact traction and visibility, such as if it’s snowing or raining.

Skip driving when the weather is bad

Unless absolutely necessary, don’t make your fear of driving worse by getting behind the wheel in bad weather. Bad weather can be anything from a summer thunderstorm to heavy snow, rain, ice, or fog. Any of these weather conditions impact visibility and traction, making it harder to see what’s around you and reducing your tires’ grip on the road.

If you’re a new driver who recently purchased your first car insurance policy, keep yourself and others safe by refraining from driving when the weather forecast is poor. This is likely to make the anxious thoughts worse, especially if you don’t feel confident or in control of the car.

If you must drive in inclement weather, slow down and consider taking a detour that keeps you on smaller roads with less car traffic. You may also wish to take longer-term precautions, such as installing winter tires on your vehicle.

Get in touch with BrokerLink

If you want to overcome your driving fears and anxieties, whether you’re worried about sharing the road with motorcycles or getting into a collision with a cyclist, reach out to BrokerLink today.

Our insurance experts can offer a wide range of driving tips and help you find a quality car insurance policy. Having the right policy can further help alleviate your fears since you will be financially protected should you get into an accident.

The types of car insurance coverage that a BrokerLink insurance advisor can help you find include:

Reach out to us today to learn more about the importance of car insurance and to request a free quote. All BrokerLink car insurance quotes are free of charge and have no strings attached. What are you waiting for? Give us a call, use our online quote tool, or visit one of our locations in person.

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