Many people experience anxiety about driving, and this can impact daily life choices, career options and self-confidence.
Everyone knows know that when we get into the driving seat of a car, we are taking on a task of great responsibility, with the safety of ourselves and the public at large to be considered. We should never feel that we are above such thoughts of vulnerability when we drive.
However, excessive anxiety about driving may cause us to be less competent in driving skills. So we need to gain a balance of self-assurance of driving safely, borne of having a definite skill-set and a mindset of alertness at all times we are driving.
Anxiety may arise following a road traffic accident, a near miss or unpleasant driving experience – but for some fearful people, there is no known cause. Fear can be developed as early as childhood by the observation of anxiety in a parent who is driving or even by a negative association with an event that is no longer remembered.
Types of specific driving anxiety include:
- Fear of loss of control. Some individuals who fear driving have recurrent thoughts of its potential for danger, and sometimes, this can focus on the loss of control.
- Panic. Individuals may feel bodily sensations, such as shortness of breath, shakiness, palpitations, chest pain, sweating or a dry mouth. Most of these symptoms may relate to acute anxiety. These symptoms set up the feeling that there is a serious health problem, creating a vicious circle of increasing anxiety and greater symptoms, causing panic. However, such anxiety is usually associated with an increase in the heart rate and raised blood pressure. Chest pain may be caused by the tension of muscles in the chest region. Nevertheless, when these symptoms occur, it is important that a health check is carried out by one’s doctor, in order that any serious illness can be investigated.
- A previous accident. For some individuals, having a road traffic collision can produce a loss of confidence and an increased tendency to feel anxious when driving or travelling in a car. This anxiety may be reduced over time, but some people need special help. (See below.)
- Fear of incompetence. This may be a reflection of anxiety about getting things wrong, or letting others down. The three ‘A’s of Anger, Assertiveness and Anxiety can be interrelated. Traditional researchers consider that men are more prone to express problems outwardly in the form of aggression or anger, whereas women are more likely to turn difficulties inwards – self-blaming and feeling anxious. Learning to recognise these difficulties and their triggers is an essential part of the solution.
- Generalised anxiety. Because everyone is interested in self-preservation and knows that driving can be a dangerous activity, some people conclude that it is best avoided.
Specialised assistance is needed to treat this anxiety.
Firstly, if any physical symptoms are felt, such as chest pain, blurred vision or palpitations, it is important to have a complete medical examination to eliminate or address any serious medical condition.
Although anxiety itself is unpleasant, it can be controlled and minimised. People can learn to recognise that the vicious circle of panic followed by driving anxiety can be broken. The help of a qualified driving professional can be valuable here; he or she can lead people through practical tasks that a counsellor or psychologist cannot. People can be taught to spot potential problems, drive defensively, plan ahead to avoid difficulties, and gain a realistic sense of control and a better understanding of the car and the driving process. An instructor can help individuals to make a more objective assessment of their driving skills and address any shortfalls. Positive encouragement and helpful feedback are essential components of this process.