Fear of Driving

Parent Q&A

  • How to address driving anxiety?

    (9 replies)

    I am feeling very hampered by my fear of driving in certain situations -- mostly on freeways and especially on bridges. My heart starts racing and I feel like I'm going to have a panic attack and run off the road (I've never actually had one, though, and I do not experience anxiety in general). It's terrifying and unpleasant, and bad enough that I simply avoid driving in a lot of situations. This has been going on for years, but now it's starting to creep in on routes I have to drive all the time. I would really appreciate any advice about how to fix this and specific recommendations. A driving school? Therapy? Thanks.

    This isn't super helpful but I wanted to tell you that you are doing the right thing by taking steps to address this. I've read that when something makes you anxious and you avoid it, you actually increase your anxiety because you are teaching your brain that whatever it is you're avoiding is truly dangerous.  I don't know of any therapists but I seem to recall when my son was learning to drive and had to do the required hours of professional training, that some of the driving schools I looked at dealt with adult drivers with anxiety.  Maybe you could call a few and explain, and see what they suggest.  You might also try just driving a short distance (one exit) on a relatively un-threatening freeway and try to gradually increase it - sort of "do it yourself" behavioral therapy. Good luck.  

    Ann's Driving School is what helped me learn to drive at age 43 with the same issues you are having. Very patient and understanding instructors who can really help. Please call them you'll be glad you did. www.fearlessdriver.com

    I don't really have any advice but I just wanted to say that I experience a lot of the same things. I just moved back to California after years of living on the east coast and in the UK where I didn't need to drive and suddenly am now driving a lot. I find freeways, with kids in the car, bridges and anytime requiring a lane change (usually fast moving traffic but also at other times) extremely stressful and occassionally almost panic inducing. Have frequent flashes to car crashes, driving off the road etc. I am trying to just work through it and have had, for work, to drive recently from the east bay to San Jose, Palo Alto and San Bruno, each of which have felt like *major* accomplishments but which I would never want to attempt with my kids in the car! I feel like everyone in the bay area is so blase about freeway driving, people seem to drive their kids great distances to schools whereas I feel much more limited to be close to home (which has limited our options in Oakland). I know this isn't helpful to you at all in terms of practical advice but just to say you're not alone!

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Never learned to drive, really need to

Jan 2008

I'm in my late thirties and have never learned to drive. I've tried several times, but fear and anxiety always stopped me. I've taken lessons from friends, my partner, driving instructors, even a driving school specializing in older nervous drivers, but nothing worked, even talk therapy and hypnotherapy. Now that I am a parent, I really need to know how to drive, for safety's sake and so I can do errands with my daughter. I'm stumped about how to do it.

I can't learn to drive with my newborn in the car, and my partner needs to be in the car with me during practice sessions, so no one could stay at home with my daughter. But mostly it's just overwhelming fear that stops me from driving. Has anyone else coped successfully with a driving phobia?

Thanks. (Please note that I'm not looking for service offers from therapists or hypnotherapists.) Driving troubles

Talk therapy isn't helpful for anxiety and can sometimes make it worse (because you're talking about traumatic or anxiety producing things)! Cognitive behavioral therapy should help. I'd suggest finding a CBT therapist. It's short term, structured, and very effective. Kate C

I, too, didn't learn to drive until adulthood. I, too, was really anxious about driving and thought I would never learn. I basically had to create an artificial deadline for myself (I planned to do some work in a rural area for which I would need a car and need to drive) to force myself to do it. In the beginning I would have anxiety dreams (for example, that I would stop at a stoplight, forget what to do, and just abandon the car in the middle of the road). After the first year driving, that anxiety totally went away. I have now been driving for 16 years. My advice is: give yourself a deadline. Get a babysitter so you can take lessons or have your partner help you learn. Force yourself to practice/drive daily, or you will slip back into your fear. YOU CAN DO IT!!! It does get easier. You just need to get over the hump. D.

More than once I have gone through periods of anxiety related to driving. For me it was really about trust and control. I didn't doubt my driving skills, but it made me incredibly anxious to have to trust perfect strangers to not do something stupid that would kill me. I knew I had no control over what the other drivers were doing and it seemed incredibly foolish to put myself in a situation that was so dangerous. I got over it by getting my needs met in my own life--getting more sleep, making my husband take the baby out so I could have down time, getting a babysitter so I could exercise, not doing things for everybody else all the time and just saying out loud, ''I don't care if you don't like it, just do it yourself because it really shouldn't be my responsiblity'' and realizing that I could live through the ensuing tantrums. I also sang my favorite song over and over again when I was feeling paniky (I also do this on airplanes silently-same reasons!) and kept saying to myself ''the other people don't want to die either''. It did go away good luck!

I've had a hard time staying within the word limit. I wish I could tell you about my incredible success overcoming this, but it's still very much a work in progress for me. I understand how difficult it can make things, especially with kids. Like you, I've tried and failed to overcome this many times (I even managed to get my license at one point). I think I'm finally on my way to success now and I'm happy to pass on what's been helpful for me. Be prepared to take it really slow. Try to feel proud of small accomplishments along the way. Btw finding time with sitters and the fear, it is just a slow, slow process. Drive with someone you're truly comfortable with who understands your issues. It's been important for me to feel in control-- if I feel ''pushed'' I completely freeze up. Set reasonable goals. I think of very easy driving trips I could do-- to my daughter's preschool, to the grocery store-- and think what an improvement it would be in my life & my family's if I could do just those things. Better than nothing! I still find the goal of becoming a totally ''normal'' driver overwhelming, so I've focused on these smaller goals and am hoping to over-achieve someday. It's helped to let the whole, crazy, ugly phobia out in front of my husband so that I can focus on trying to overcome it. Laughing at the absurdity of it all has been what keeps me trying. I wish you all the best and I really think we can do it if we keep at it. If nothing else, I wanted to write to say that I know what you're going through and I'm rooting for you! I'm sure you will find a way that works for you. Also, I know 4 adults who had significant driving phobias and overcame them. One such friend gave me the sage advice that as long as you are doing *something* toward reaching your goal, you will probably get there eventually. It took her years of lessons and super-short solo trips before she could drive to work, but she drives everywhere now. Finally On the Road

If you just don't know how to work out the logistics of learning with a baby, it seems to me that the best strategy is to leave the baby with your partner and take lessons from one of the many driving schools in the area.

But you say you've taken lessons from several sources but ''nothing worked.'' What does that mean? You didn't finish the lessons? You didn't feel like you'd learned enough? You didn't pass the test? If you've tried to learn several times and still aren't at the point where you can drive safely, or if when you drive you are nervous and preoccupied, then maybe it's not for you and for safety's sake please do the rest of us and our kids the favor of not driving! Don't run me over!

I sympathize because I really, really hate driving. My advice is to take it super slow. Have your husband take you to an empty parking lot and practice there. (Out in Alameda near Bladium strikes me as a good place). Then drive down one block in traffic. Do that until you feel comfortable (the same block). Then do two. Stay off the freeway - forever, if you want. You can get everywhere you need to go without going on the freeway, if you take enough time. People are nuts on the freeway. Nuts, I tell you. And by the way, you aren't crazy - most people who are drive ARE.

- I learned to drive when I was 34. I was very frightened. I attribute this to the difference between a 15 yo and 34 yo sense of the real danger involved. I got my license without much practice and was still frightened. After some practice, I am now a normal driver-I drive well and safely and am totally oblivious to the fact that I am driving a 2-ton steel box. However, I am still afraid to drive on 80 or other very busy highways--esp. with my precious son.

So the upshot is that practice will make driving seem second-nature and you will no longer be afraid. good luck!!!

I look forward to reading others' responses, since I too do not drive and am having a hard time overcoming my reluctance/fear. However, I just wanted to put this out there: you don't absolutely have to learn right this second, when you are dealing with being mother of a newborn. There are mothers who don't drive (like me!), and they do just fine. I too want to overcome my fear so by the time my kid is signing up for soccer, I can help with the carpools, but in the early years I have been able to get around using my feet, the bus, BART, taxis, and yes, my spouse driving. In a deadly emergency I would call 911, which is the best thing to do anyway. I applaud you for your commitment to tackle your fears, but I just hope you don't put too much pressure on yourself at this particularly vulnerable time. When your child is a little older, you will probably have babysitters or daycare lined up, and that might be a better time to return to your goal of becoming a driver. I hope we both get there someday! Mobile Mama with No Automobile

Therapist to help with my driving phobia

May 2006

I am looking for a female therapist/hypnotherapist/healer or specialist of some kind, preferably in Oakland/Alameda or SF, who can help me with my driving phobia. I have looked for information in the archives but could not find anything. Thanks. anon

I can imagine that your driving phobia is quite distressing. While you may have suffered with this for a long time, there is definitely help that's possible. Many people find that EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) therapy is a fast, efficient, and extremely effective way to treat phobias such as the fear of driving that you've described. It often has dramatic results in just a few sessions. When EMDR is integrated with other traditional forms of talk-therapy, effectiveness is maximized and long-term resolution of symptoms is quite possible. You can read more about this type of treatment at:http://www.emdr.com/q EMDR is most helpful for trauma recovery, anxiety disorders, OCD, phobias, and other long-standing life issues. Linda