Do you have a frantic fear of highways, tunnels, bridges or traffic jams?
Are you sometimes completely cramped behind the wheel of your car?
Do you often take public transport because you are too afraid to drive?
Do you avoid taking unfamiliar routes and highways?
You’re not the only one! In the Netherlands there are no fewer than 1 million people with a fear of driving or highway fear. Fear of driving can severely limit your daily life.
Whatever the cause of your fear of driving and whatever forms it takes, overcoming fear of driving is entirely possible. Discover in this blog how you can do this.
What is fear of driving?
Do you often think ‘I don’t dare to drive on the highway’? Then Mirjam’s gripping story will be recognizable to you.
‘Mirjam has had her driver’s license for twenty years, but she doesn’t dare to drive on the highway. Five years ago Mirjam witnessed a serious car accident.
Although Mirjam was not involved in the accident, it still left its mark on her. She especially remembers the panic and how she immediately realized that an accident happened very quickly. Since that day Mirjam no longer dares to drive alone on a highway.
When her partner is with her, things are just fine, because then she has the feeling that he can intervene if something goes wrong. Yet Mirjam never feels completely calm when she is driving. She holds her steering wheel so tightly that her hands start to tingle after a while.
She is extremely afraid of losing control of the car and herself and starts working with public transport instead of the car. This takes her much more time, but she can avoid driving on the highway.’
If you have highway anxiety, Mirjam’s story will sound familiar to you.
Like other forms of anxiety, fear of driving is more common in women than in men. However, men can also suffer from highway anxiety.
In the video below, program maker Matthijs van Nieuwkerk and professor of neuropsychology Erik Scherder talk about their common fears.
Have you seen the video? Even Matthijs van Nieuwkerk suffers from fear of driving! Is his story recognizable to you? Then read on.
The DSM-5 Classification Manual for Psychological Diagnosis defines driving anxiety as a situational anxiety . This means that this fear only occurs in certain situations. This is the driving situation for fear of driving.
Fear of driving can take many forms. What all forms of fear of driving have in common is that you are constantly on edge while driving, so that you cannot relax. Fear of driving can affect your life very negatively.
Maybe you suffer from such an extreme fear of driving that you don’t even dare to drive at all.
Types of Fear of Driving
The most common form of driving anxiety is highway anxiety.
With highway anxiety it is mainly the speed that scares you, but also cars that merge or drive by cause you stress.
Typical thoughts in people with highway anxiety are accidents, collisions, a blowout or simply losing control of the wheel. As a result, they often do not go on the highway at all.
Fear of bridges and tunnels
Bridges or tunnels are also often a problem for people with a fear of driving. Underlying anxiety disorders such as fear of heights, claustrophobia or fear of vomiting often play a role here.
Fear of traffic congestion
Some people with a fear of driving think it’s okay to drive on a highway, but are just afraid to drive in the city. After all, a lot of impressions come to them here: pedestrians suddenly cross the road, cyclists drive very close, other drivers do not respect the right-of-way rules, etc…
Whatever form of fear of driving you have, it will rarely just arise. Very often traumatic events or underlying fears lie at the root of it.
Causes of Fear of Driving
There is a good chance that you have experienced something in the past that caused your fear of driving or highway fear. Different types of causes (triggers) can set a process in motion.
The main cause of fear of driving is a car accident.
What does science say?
J. Gayle Beck and Scott F Coffey , both professors of psychology, found in their study that 25% to 33% of drivers hospitalized after a car accident developed some form of fear of driving ( 1 ).
Edward J. Hickling , Edward B. Blanchard and Kuch published much higher numbers in the journal ‘Journal of Anxiety Disorder’ ( 2 ). As many as 42% to 77% of all drivers who were ever involved in a car accident developed some form of fear of driving as a result.
Lack of experience
Driving is a skill you have learned. Maybe this was a long time ago, maybe you just recently got your driver’s license.
However, to feel safe while driving, routine and experience are very important.
The less often you drive, the more insecure you feel in traffic. This uncertainty causes you to avoid driving, which increases the fear of driving.
If you are an anxious person who worries about everything, you are more prone to develop a fear of driving. Making a mistake is human.
You often get the feeling that ‘danger’ is everywhere and for that reason you prefer not to take others with you in the car.
Low self-esteem and insufficient self-confidence can also lead to fear of driving. After all, you have to be able to stand your ground in traffic. If you already have problems with this in daily life, it will not be easy in a difficult traffic situation.
Fear of driving is also common in people who like to keep everything under control and who become anxious when unsure about this control.
Stress can also be a factor. Stress can make you feel less concentrated and less relaxed behind the wheel.
Just like the causes of fear of driving, the symptoms can also be very diverse.
Symptoms of Fear of Driving
The symptoms of fear of driving are similar to those of other fears.
These symptoms create a feeling of powerlessness. This impotence can take very extreme forms so that you just don’t dare to drive any further.
Sometimes people even just leave their cars and continue on foot. Fear of driving can have consequences that control your entire life.
The consequences of fear of driving
#1 Less mobile
For many people, their car is their freedom. Quickly take the car to do some shopping, visit friends or family, go to work, have a drink… these are all things where you can’t always rely on public transport or by bike.
Fear of driving means that you are less mobile and that your freedom is limited. Your world is also getting smaller. Traveling by car can give you such extreme anxiety that you decide to stay at home.
#2 Loss of income
Suppose you have found the job of your dreams. However, the company does require that you visit customers weekly with a lease car you have received.
If you have a fear of driving, you will see that dream job pass you by. Because of this, you may have to settle for another job that you don’t like as much or where you earn a lot less.
#3 Less social contacts
If your friends or relatives live nearby, fear of driving does not play such a big role if you want to visit them.
If you have a partner who lives far away, it will be more difficult for you to meet. This also puts a lot of pressure on your relationship because your partner always has to get behind the wheel if you want to go somewhere.
#4 Relationship problems
Like I said just now… Over and over again asking your partner to take you somewhere can really take a toll on your confidence and independence.
Conversely, your partner will not like having to be there for you all the time. These minor irritations can cause your relationship to not go so well in the long run.
Almost everyone with a fear of driving experiences this as a major problem. Unfortunately, there is often a taboo on this and people with a fear of driving come up with the most impossible excuses not to drive a car.
If you think it’s high time to enjoy your car and your freedom again, read on!
How can you get rid of fear of driving?
As we mentioned earlier, fear of driving can have far-reaching consequences for your social life, your professional life and your relationship. Despite your frustration or shame, it is important that you deal with this annoying fear.
Fortunately, there are several ways to get over your fear of driving:
Tip 1: don’t drive alone
You’ll feel much safer knowing that someone else can take the wheel should the need arise.
That feeling of safety alone can reduce stress while driving. Especially if you want to practice small parts on the highway, it is important that someone is sitting next to you in the car.
Tip 2: keep driving!
Try to get over your fear by continuing to drive. Do this in the beginning on roads you know well.
If you feel ready to move on, keep the above tip in mind (always have someone with you).
If you keep driving you will be confronted with your fear. The longer you wait to drive, the more difficult it will be to take the step.
Tip 3: take new driving lessons
Do not be ashamed to enter a driving school. There are thousands of people who take new driving lessons when they are afraid of driving.
Tip 4: CBD oil (Cannabidiol)
CBD oil has a calming effect and can help you feel calmer behind the wheel.
This oil contains an extremely low level of THC (the active ingredient in cannabis) so that it does not make you light-headed at all and you can still drive the car safely.
Please note: this is not a joint from the coffee shop!
Tip 5: Soothing music
Some people find music in the car annoying. Others benefit greatly from calming down.
Music in the car can also help with driving anxiety. After all, this ensures that you do not focus on your fear. Classical music can be a good distraction.
A study by scientists at Memorial University in Newfoundland found that when someone listens to loud music while driving, the reaction time can be slowed by up to 20%. So don’t turn up the music too loud!
Tip 6: Exposure therapie
With this form of therapy you learn step by step to confront your fear of driving.
The goal of this therapy is to ensure that your anxiety no longer interferes with your daily life.
With exposure therapy, it becomes clear that all those disaster scenarios in your head don’t actually come true when you drive.
Do you have highway fear, then feel free to avoid the highways in the beginning. You can easily do this by turning on this option in Google maps.
Step by step you will learn that driving on the highway is not as dangerous as you think.