Although it lacks an official name, the fear of driving is incredibly common. Firm statistics are hard to find, but a quick Internet search reveals several websites dedicated to combating this fear. The fear of driving may be mild or severe. Some people fear only specific driving situations, such as driving in storms or on freeways, while others are afraid of simply sitting behind the wheel.
Agoraphobia - The fear of driving is commonly associated with agoraphobia. Loosely defined as the fear of being trapped when a panic attack occurs, agoraphobia leads to the avoidance of situations that feel threatening. Driving is one of the primary clusters in which agoraphobia manifests. Bridges, tunnels and long deserted stretches of roadway are particularly difficult for many people with agoraphobia.
Claustrophobia - A fear of driving is sometimes related to claustrophobia. The fear of enclosed spaces, claustrophobia is easily triggered by the relatively small confines of a car. Some people with claustrophobia report that their fear is worse as passengers, while others are more afraid of being the driver.
Performance Anxiety - Driving is a major responsibility. Not only must you manage your own safety, but that of your passengers and others on the road. Those who suffer from stage fright or other performance-related fears may be uncomfortable trusting in their own driving abilities. The fear may be heightened when passengers are present, particularly for those with social phobia.
Fear of Accidents - Those who suffer from dystychiphobia, or the fear of accidents, try to avoid situations that increase the risk of physical danger. In addition, a more general risk aversion may also heighten the fear. As an inherently risky activity, driving has the potential to trigger risk-based phobias.
Fear of Travel - The fear of travel, hodophobia, encompasses fears of all forms of transportation. Many people with this phobia are comfortable driving to familiar locations, but are scared to explore new destinations or routes.
Fear of Authority - A slight nervousness around authority figures is natural, but some people are genuinely terrified of any contact with authority. People with this phobia are often afraid when driving around police cars, fire trucks or ambulances. You might also be reluctant to negotiate unfamiliar traffic lights, roundabouts and other traffic situations for fear of doing something wrong.
Simple Driving Phobia
The fear of driving is not always linked to another phobia. Many people experience a simple driving phobia that is uncomplicated by other fears. A simple driving phobia may be caused by many factors.
Bad Experience: If you have been in a car accident, you may be at elevated risk for developing a fear of driving. Other potential triggers include driving through a major storm, getting lost, being pulled over or driving in unusually heavy traffic. The negative situation need not have happened to you. Witnessing a particularly bad crash in person or on television, or knowing someone who went through one, could be enough to trigger this fear.
Family or Friends: How your parents and friends treat driving may influence how you feel about it. If one or both parents are particularly cautious drivers, it is not unusual to internalize their concerns. Some people develop a fear after watching particularly gruesome drivers' education films or Mothers Against Drunk Driving displays.
Some driving phobias lack a clear cause. Some people find that their fear develops suddenly, after years of successful driving experience. Others simply never have the desire to learn to drive. Fortunately, it is not necessary to find the cause in order to treat the phobia.
Treating Driving Phobia
It is always best to seek professional treatment for any driving phobia to ensure that another condition, such as agoraphobia or claustrophobia, is not present. Left untreated, even a relatively mild driving phobia may worsen over time.
Treatment options for a simple driving phobia run the gamut from individual therapy sessions to seminars, group exposure sessions and psycho-educational classes. Some people find that working with a private driving instructor is a helpful complement to mental health treatment solutions.
The fear of driving can have a major impact on virtually all areas of your life. With professional assistance and hard work, however, there is no reason to become a prisoner to your fear.
American Psychiatric Association. (1994). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (4th Ed.). Washington, DC: Author.