Fear of Driving

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It's important to realise that if you have a fear of driving or learning to drive, then you're not alone!

Approximately a third of drivers express some concern or fear about driving. This could be people who feel anxious about driving at night, in bad weather, in busy traffic or on a new and unfamiliar route. So a little discomfort about driving is completely normal.

However, we all know that a fear, or phobia, can become overwhelming and that's when it can cause problems.

Generally speaking, there are a number of reasons that underlie our phobia of driving... we'll have a look at some of them below. Please note that this is not an exhaustive list, it is just meant to help you discover some of your own reasons and hopefully help you to address them.

1. Learnt Behaviour

As always, we learn things from others and even before we get into the driver's seat for the first time we are preconditioned by others. If we have an experience of being driven by a calm, controlled and courteous driver the chances are that it'll have rubbed off on us. If our formative years have been spent in the company of a poor driver who constantly takes risks and is prone to outbursts of road rage and criticism then there's a good chance that we've got a lot of excess baggage that we bring along with us. Parents criticising other drivers can affect their children, who can go on to feel that the are an inconvenience and are holding up other road users.

2. Experience of a car crash

A car crash of any type/severity can affect us badly. From being a witness to a minor bump through to being the driver who is responsible for a fatality. The effects can be long lasting and difficult to cope with and often the easier solution is to avoid driving completely - which may be a good or a bad outcome.

3. Prolonged and Intensive Period of Stress

Stress is part of life and therefore, part of driving. The pressure of a deadline spurs us on to complete a piece of work or file a tax return. This stress is short lived and is sometimes pretty useful as it helps us perform at a higher level. So the stress of driving in busy traffic could make us more alert and observant and ultimately make us safer. But there are other stresses in life that can affect us negatively

  • pregnancy
  • divorce
  • illness
  • bullying
  • redundancy

All these experiences can affect our self confidence and also our physical health.

4. Stopping driving for a period of time - harder to start again the longer the time.

The above four areas are often interrelated. Eg we're frightened to get back behind the wheel after a minor shunt, not solely because of the damage or injury caused, but because we have low self esteem and the accident was just the straw that broke the camel's back.

Maybe, the first step to overcoming our fear of driving is learning to be a bit kinder and forgiving to ourselves.

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Fear of Learning to Drive

For younger drivers, learning to drive is often seen as a coming of age event. You get your driving licence and you're an adult, you don't have to rely on lifts and you're responsible for your own actions. This is all great but there's also lots of pressure from parents - "these lessons are costing a fortune!" Peer pressure -"it only took me ten lessons to pass!" Society -"any idiot can drive and you need a newer more powerful car!" These sentiments are banded around all the time and none of them are helpful or even true!

Learning to drive involves learning new skills and performing actions that we are totally unfamiliar with and on top of these physical movements we have to develop positive attitudes that equip us for the complex decision making and spatial judgements that driving involves.

Of course, before you gain your licence there's the Driving Test to contend with. Nobody likes to be scrutinised and our ideas of what counts as a pass or a fail, the fabled personality of the examiner, the time of day etc etc add up to make it a stressful day.

The question is how do we cope with it all? A simple answer is be realistic and have a good look at what needs to be done and approach it step by step. By analysing our concerns one by one and putting them into perspective we grow in confidence and understanding. Our fears often arise out of the unknown and once we know what we need to do we're on the way to overcoming our fears.

Confidence doesn't grow independently, but it grows whilst you are doing the things you fear.

Dealing with Driver Related Stress

Driver stress can be good or bad. It can make us more alert and safer or it can cripple us and prevent us from driving at all.

It's always good if we can identify the bad stresses in our driving life, a few familiar ones are Fear of Motorways, Large Roundabouts, Turning Right, Parking, Getting Lost and Breaking Down. There are many others too.