Driving Phobia

Dear Topspeed,
I've realized I have a fear of driving, especially on highways. It seems like everyone goes faster than me and I'm especially afraid of curves. Do you have any suggestions to help me get over my driving phobia?

Elaine M. from Arlington, Virginia

Hi Elaine,

First off, you are not alone. Countless people have a fear of driving and this phobia, which is actually a form of agoraphobia, is common among women. It often develops in people who have had auto accidents or traumatic experiences involving a car. Driving phobia is characterized by a feeling of general anxiety or panic while driving. Symptoms include but are not limited to: shortness of breath, a rapid heart rate, sweating, shaking, and the feeling that one may lose control of their car or become involved in an accident. In order to conquer your fear, you'll have to confront it a little bit at a time. Since I don't know the severity of your driving phobia, I can only offer some general suggestions that will hopefully help you.

One of the best ways to reduce your driving fear and become a more confident driver is to take driving lessons from a professional driving school. Schools such as Skip Barber and Bob Bondurant offer specialized courses where you can learn and practice emergency driving techniques such as accident avoidance and skid control. Within the safe environment of a driving school, you will be able to build upon your existing skills and learn new ones that will put you more at ease when driving on public roads. After completing some professional driving lessons, your driving confidence will skyrocket and you will be better prepared to deal with any situation you may encounter during your normal driving. This newfound confidence should lead to a reduction of your driving anxiety.

If you are simply uncomfortable with driving at high speeds, these same professional driving schools can teach you proper high speed driving skills. Oftentimes, it is not possible to feel secure or comfortable doing anything that you're not used to. This certainly applies to driving fast. Once you have learned and practiced high speed driving, your regular highway driving won't be as intimidating. There are also many good books available on the subject of driving properly and safely at high speeds. Studying them might be all you need to get over your highway driving uneasiness. The fact is that driving fast cannot harm you; only an accident can. Possessing a greater knowledge of driving will reduce your likelihood of being in an accident at any speed.

If your fear of driving is severe or becoming progressively worse, obtaining a psychological consultation first might be more helpful. Treatments for severe cases of driving phobia include counseling, deep relaxation training, and hypnotherapy. For most people in this day and age, driving is necessary for mobility and social interaction. Therefore, if you feel that your driving phobia is interfering with your life, you should definitely seek professional help. I've mentioned some methods to help you cope but only you can decide the best course of action for overcoming your driving apprehension. Reaching out for advice shows that you are on your way to doing just that.

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