8 Tips to Get Over Driving Anxiety and Overcome Fear

Jacqueline DeMarco
Written by
Jacqueline DeMarco
Jacqueline DeMarco
Written by
Jacqueline DeMarco
During college, Jacqueline DeMarco interned at a retirement plan advisory firm and was tasked with creating a presentation on the importance of financial wellness. During her research into how money can affect our health, relationships and career, Jacqueline realized just how important financial education is. Jacqueline is a contributor for Insurify and has worked with more than a dozen financial brands, including LendingTree, Capital One, Credit Karma, Fundera, Chime, Bankrate, Student Loan Hero, ValuePenguin, SoFi, and Northwestern Mutual, providing thoughtful content to give readers insight into complex topics that they likely didn’t learn in school.
Katie Powers
Edited by
Katie Powers
Photo of an Insurify author
Edited by
Katie Powers
Insurance Writer
Katie Powers is an insurance writer at Insurify with a producer’s license for property and casualty insurance in Massachusetts and expertise in personal finance and auto insurance topics. She strives to help consumers make better financial decisions. Prior to joining Insurify, she completed her undergraduate and graduate degrees at Emerson College. Her work has been published in St. Louis Magazine, the Boston Globe, and elsewhere. Connect with Katie on LinkedIn.

Updated December 8, 2022

Reading time: 8 minutes

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Feeling confident and comfortable while driving helps to keep yourself and others safe on the road. Unfortunately, driving anxiety, which can occur when you’re the driver or passenger, is becoming more common. 

Sixty-five percent of people feel more anxious in cars now compared to before the pandemic, according to a 2022 study by Cobra Electronics. That said, people can turn to tools and resources to overcome their driving anxiety.[1]

Keep reading to learn about what causes driving anxiety, how it manifests, and how to get past it.

What is driving anxiety?

Driving anxiety, also known as amaxophobia, occurs when someone develops a fear of driving or being a passenger in a moving car or another type of vehicle. This anxiety often occurs for drivers before getting in their vehicle or while driving. When severe, this anxiety may prevent some people from going to work, running errands, or visiting friends.

Even seeing someone else in a vehicle, whether in person or on TV, can trigger feelings of anxiety. Symptoms of anxiety include the following:

  • Excessive sweating

  • Nausea

  • Chills

  • Heart palpitations

  • Shortness of breath

  • Upset stomach

  • Indigestion

  • Dizziness and light-headedness

  • Trembling and shaking[2]

Driving anxiety in the United States

If you struggle with driving anxiety, it’s important for you to remember that many others experience the same fear. As briefly noted earlier, 65% of Americans in 2022 reported feeling more anxious in vehicles than they did before the pandemic. The average American also reported that they had at least three “close calls” while on the road in the past two years in the same Cobra Electronics study. It’s easy to understand where anxious feelings and fear around driving can stem from.[1]

Check Out: The 5 Biggest Car Insurance Myths in 2022

Why do people experience driving anxiety?

Many different factors can trigger driving anxiety at different moments in your life. Just because you experience driving anxiety at one point in your life doesn’t mean it will last forever. Read on below for some common examples of what causes driving anxiety.

If you experienced a car accident or had a loved one injured or killed in a car accident, you may have post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) linked to your driving anxiety. You may struggle to overcome driving anxiety after an accident if you have painful memories surrounding driving.

Bad weather

Bad weather conditions that make driving more challenging and dangerous — like excessive rain, snow, or fog — often cause feelings of driving anxiety to increase.

Agoraphobia

An agoraphobia diagnosis describes a debilitating fear of leaving one’s home or of being unable to escape a certain situation or place. Anxiety stemming from agoraphobia can kick in when you’re in a moving vehicle.[2] For example, if you’re stuck in bad traffic, you may feel trapped.

Anxiety or panic disorder

Anxiety disorders and panic disorders don’t have to center around the fear of driving for you to be prone to feeling anxious when you’re in a car. For some, driving leads to a feeling of a loss of control that results in anxiety or panic. If someone is tailgating you, for example, you may feel helpless and anxious while the situation lasts.

Fear of driving in certain locations

While you may feel perfectly comfortable driving around your sleepy hometown, you may have feelings of anxiety when driving in certain locations. Common problem areas include highways and bridges, tunnels, and areas prone to heavy traffic. Additionally, many people experience anxieties around becoming lost, including not knowing where they are, where to park, or where to stop for gas and food on a long road trip.

Check Out: 10 States with the Most Car Accidents in 2022

Fear of certain driving maneuvers

Merging onto the highway, changing lanes, reversing, turning right at a red light, and other driving maneuvers may cause you and others to feel anxious when on the road. You may feel pressure and anticipation with certain maneuvers that make you feel unsafe or out of control, such as feeling the need to accelerate quickly when on the freeway.[3]

Visual impairment

Understandably, having impaired vision can make it harder to operate safely on the road. If you struggle with your vision or seeing clearly when driving at night, that can cause you to feel anxiety surrounding driving. If you need glasses to operate your vehicle at night, you may experience fears around losing that aid.

Beginning stages of aging or dementia

Older drivers may struggle with their vision or other issues such as dementia that can make driving a more stressful situation. For example, dementia causes memory loss and makes it harder to make decisions, both of which can make driving a car and navigating busy streets very difficult.

Negative effects of driving anxiety

Driving anxiety can affect someone’s quality of life in a few different ways:

  • Panic attacks: Having a panic attack can be scary under any circumstances, but having a panic attack while driving can make it very difficult to drive safely. Panic attacks can make it feel like it’s difficult to breathe and cause nausea, light-headedness, and dizziness. They can also make your heart race.

  • Exaggerated safety and caution: One way some people try to cope with a fear of driving is to practice exaggerated safety and caution, such as keeping a large amount of distance between their car and other cars. Some exaggerated safety behaviors, like driving well below the speed limit, can actually be unsafe.

  • Performance deficits: Not feeling comfortable while driving can actually make it harder to drive safely, as those feelings of discomfort can cause performance deficits. When someone is functionally impaired due to anxiety, they can struggle to make the right driving decisions.

  • Hostile or overly aggressive driving: Another anxiety response some drivers have is to be overly aggressive or hostile while driving. This can manifest as yelling, aggressive gesturing, or honking at other drivers.

8 tips for overcoming driving anxiety

You can turn to tips and tricks if you’re struggling with driving anxiety, but overcoming anxiety may look different for everyone. The following examples depict reliable options for you to consider when navigating how to deal with anxiety about driving.

1. Understand what causes your driving anxiety

A crucial first step in dealing with your driving anxiety is considering where these feelings come from. Understanding the root of your anxious feelings and acknowledging the causes may empower you and make it easier to believe that you can overcome your fear.

2. Combat intrusive thoughts

Intrusive thoughts pop up suddenly, often with no specific trigger, and are typically unwanted and unpleasant. If you have intrusive thoughts about driving, you may feel increased anxiety around being on the road. You can work with a mental health professional to learn how to identify intrusive thoughts and combat them.

3. Stay in the moment

Focusing on the here and now often makes it easier to tamp down feelings of overwhelming anxiety while driving. Instead of thinking about the risks associated with driving, remaining present and focusing your thoughts on the steps required to get where you need to go can recenter your mind in a helpful way. Even something as simple as accounting for the sensory cues around you — how your hands feel on the steering wheel, what you see in front of you on the road, the smell of your car’s air freshener, the sound of the air conditioner or radio in your car — may interrupt your anxiety-driven thoughts.

See Also: 10 States with the Best Drivers in 2022

4. Find and utilize tools for relaxation

No universal way to relax exists, but allotting time in your life to relax helps you cope with anxiety. Try to find a relaxation method that works for you. For example, you can learn breathing and relaxation techniques to turn to while driving or before you get in the car to put your mind at ease.

5. Hire a driving instructor or take a safe driving course

Improving and developing more confidence in your driving abilities can be a great way to ease feelings of anxiety surrounding driving. Hiring a driving instructor or taking a safe driving course may help you feel more comfortable on the road by openly discussing and confronting your driving anxieties. And many driving instructors even walk their students through what to do in more dangerous driving scenarios, like when to use an emergency break. You may feel calmer in the car knowing there is an expert next to you who can help you avoid threats or who can assure you that you’re doing a good job.

6. Exposure therapy

Exposure therapy helps people confront their fears by forcing them to face the activity, object, or situation they’re afraid of. For people with driving anxiety, this could involve a psychologist creating a safe environment in which to introduce them to driving with the goal of reducing fear and decreasing avoidance.

7. Seek help from a mental health professional

If you feel you could benefit from professional help, you can work with a mental health provider who has experience in the treatment of phobias and anxiety (such as a therapist) to work on a treatment plan. Medication, support groups, and psychotherapy can all help provide you with support.

8. Cognitive behavioral therapy

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is a psychological treatment that can help patients with anxiety by working to change someone’s behavioral patterns. Techniques to accomplish this include facing fears instead of avoiding them, role playing to work through difficult interactions that may arise, and finding ways to relax.

Read More: These 5 Car Brands Get into the Most Accidents in 2022

How to support loved ones with a fear of driving

If you have a loved one with driving anxiety, you should learn how to recognize when they’re feeling anxious so you can ask them what they need from you.

Anxiety often sends us into fight-or-flight mode, and learning which option your loved one typically chooses can help you recognize when they’re feeling anxious. For example, if they go into fight mode, they may become more irritable (which may involve honking or yelling at other drivers). Recognizing when they’re feeling anxious can help you know when they need extra support.

Overcoming driving anxiety FAQs

  • Yes, many people struggle with driving anxiety, especially in recent years. More than half of Americans report feeling more anxious in cars now than they did before the pandemic. Many different factors cause a fear of driving, including past traumatic driving experiences, bad weather, traffic, and a lack of confidence in their own driving abilities.

  • Having a panic attack while driving can be very frightening. If you need to, you can pull over and park your car as soon as it’s safe in order to wait out the panic attack. If you can’t pull over, you should take slow deep breaths and focus on the act of breathing in and out. It also helps to roll down windows or to turn on the air conditioning to help overcome feeling sweaty, dizzy, or light-headed.[4]

  • If you struggle with driving anxiety, you can seek help whenever you have the desire to do so. Seeking professional help feels like an especially important option to consider if your anxiety disrupts your life or is debilitating.

  • If you struggle with driving long distances, you can take a few steps to get more comfortable with it. To start, it can help to practice driving greater and greater distances before taking on a really long drive, such as a road trip. It can also be helpful to plan ahead so you know the route you’re taking, where to stop for gas, and anything else that can help put your mind at ease.

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Jacqueline DeMarco
Written by
Jacqueline DeMarco
Linkedin

During college, Jacqueline DeMarco interned at a retirement plan advisory firm and was tasked with creating a presentation on the importance of financial wellness. During her research into how money can affect our health, relationships and career, Jacqueline realized just how important financial education is. Jacqueline is a contributor for Insurify and has worked with more than a dozen financial brands, including LendingTree, Capital One, Credit Karma, Fundera, Chime, Bankrate, Student Loan Hero, ValuePenguin, SoFi, and Northwestern Mutual, providing thoughtful content to give readers insight into complex topics that they likely didn’t learn in school.

Learn More
Katie Powers
Edited by
Katie Powers
Linkedin

Insurance Writer

Photo of an Insurify author
Edited by
Katie Powers
Insurance Writer
Katie Powers is an insurance writer at Insurify with a producer’s license for property and casualty insurance in Massachusetts and expertise in personal finance and auto insurance topics. She strives to help consumers make better financial decisions. Prior to joining Insurify, she completed her undergraduate and graduate degrees at Emerson College. Her work has been published in St. Louis Magazine, the Boston Globe, and elsewhere. Connect with Katie on LinkedIn.