How do driving phobias start?

Pretty well all driving phobias are set up by a one-off learning event.

It would be natural to assume that this event has to be something really traumatic and life-threatening like a road traffic accident. But if it had been, it would most likely create some form of short-lived post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and a natural avoidance of driving for some time afterwards and this is slightly different in nature and structure to a driving phobia. So many people with a fear of driving will say they don’t know when their thing started because they are searching their minds for something horrific.

The reality is that probably 95% or more of driving phobias start with something milder – like suddenly feeling a little strange when driving at speed on a multi-lane highway. Something like:

“I was just driving along and I tried to overtake a truck….. and couldn’t do it and felt a bit panicky and weird…. and managed to drive on then thought nothing of it until it happened again the next day.”

This kind of experience would probably hold true for more than half of all set-up events for driving phobias.

If you are following the math(s) then you can see that there is a 9 out of 10 chance that your driving phobia was caused by a relatively mild, one-off learning event. There is a high probability that it started on a multi-lane highway when you were much more stressed than usual.

Making sense of driving phobia

The most frustrating thing about a driving phobia – indeed about any phobia – is that it doesn’t seem to make sense.

Part of you knows that you are probably a good, competent driver and that nothing else has changed. You have the driving experience and the skills. The roads and traffic are still the same. But no matter what you tell yourself – or others tell you (if you’ve had the courage to tell anyone about your driving phobia) – all the logic and reason doesn’t make any difference because the irrational unconscious mind kicks in and says “No, feel frightened, feel scared”.

So a fear of driving will often start to affect self-confidence and self-esteem. “Why me? Why can’t I change this?”.

Probably even more frustrating, willpower doesn’t seem to change a fear of driving either. Other things in life respond to willpower and effort: you apply some willpower and they change. But the driving phobia doesn’t. Well, again, that’s because it’s a different part of your mind that’s been driving the fear. Willpower is a function of your conscious mind and has little effect on your powerful unconscious, especially when it’s talking “survival”.

But a driving phobia does make some sense at an unconscious level. The unconscious mind is trying to protect you from what it began to imagine were life-threatening driving situations. It attached all kinds of uncomfortable feelings to those situations to try and make it so uncomfortable you wouldn’t even go there, so by it’s own “logic” you would stay safe and survive.

So any effective driving phobia treatment needs to work with the creative unconscious mind that created the fear to start with. And that is exactly what our program does: it uses a range of powerful psychological tools to decondition the fear responses and install some calm patterns for future so you can drive in comfort and feel in control again.

If driving phobia was all to do with logic and reason then you wouldn’t have a driving phobia and you wouldn’t need our program.

Life in the slow lane?

With driving phobias, not only does the driving itself become physically and emotionally exhausting, but huge amounts of time and mental energy are used in planning and then driving alternative routes or else using public transport.

This is life in the slow lane.

The avoidance and manipulation takes effort too.

All this starts to put pressure on work, social and family life. No longer being able to drive to work, go to the shops, visit family and friends, take the children out on trips and holidays or just drop them off at school and parties has a huge impact on day-to-day living.

Add in the embarrassment and self-doubt (“what’s wrong with me?”) to the loss of freedom, independence and spontaneity, and driving phobia becomes a real limit on living.

Amazingly though, many sufferers will accommodate driving phobia in their lives for years and even decades, believing that they are alone and no-one will understand their fear of driving or be able to help. Some will be lucky enough to have opportunities not to drive at all: perhaps their partner does it all, or they live in a metropolis with congested roads and good public transport or have a private driver.

Most drivers though will get to a point – maybe because of a particularly uncomfortable incident or a change in personal circumstances – when they think “enough is enough” and do something about it. And get help.

Case Study: The Psychiatrist

A psychiatrist who had driven very happily for many years developed a driving phobia when her grandmother became very ill.

Her grandmother was in a care home an hour’s drive away and the only times the psychiatrist could visit her was before she went to work each day. So she would get up early, drive out to see her grandmother and then drive on to work.

This became very stressful because not only was she stressed by her grandmother being unwell, she was getting up very early each day and this was exhausting her. Added to that her visits were always very upsetting with her grandmother always begging her not to leave her there.

One day, after a visit to her grandmother she experienced a moment of mild panic when driving to the office. This was the beginning of her driving phobia. It was brought on by physical and emotional stress.

Not wanting to self-medicate with drugs (few doctors we see take their own medicine), she came to the MindSpa Phobia Clinic for help and was so surprised by the result that she is now studying the techniques we use in the clinic because all her training had led her to believe that change could not happen so quickly.

How people manage driving fear

Most people with a fear of driving will try and hide their distress because they think there’s something wrong with them or they’re going mad or becoming a nervous wreck. Very rarely will they tell anyone beyond their partner or immediate family. Even then, they are unlikely to disclose the full extent of their fear.

So safety and avoidance strategies are used by the sufferer to reduce their anxiety and exposure and to conceal and accommodate their panic and embarrassment.

These strategies will include:

Planning and driving alternative routes to avoid particular types of roads (like multi-lane roads, freeways and motorways). Drivers become experts on finding and driving back road routes (they love their Sat-Navs) and can even convince themselves that the bigger roads are always jammed so” it’s quicker this way”.

Driving at times when the roads are clear to avoid traffic. Typically this will involve leaving for work at unsociable hours (like 5am) and returning late in the evening. It makes for a very long working day with a stressful drive home at the end.

Relying on partners or friends to drive instead or take over en route.

Making excuses to avoid driving with friends and colleagues, or giving people lifts, who might notice their anxiety: “I’m going a different way” or “I’ll meet you there”.

Finding other “reasons” to turn down jobs, promotions, social invitations and vacations that would involve driving

Manipulating people and situations to avoid having to drive.

Fear, as they say, is the mother of invention.

Drive-o-phobia?

The clinical name for driving phobia is not Drive-o-phobia.

In fact there is no recognized clinical name for a phobia of driving. Which is quite an omission for such a common phobia.

Some therapists refer to the fear of driving as Hodophobia but that is far too general as it is defined as a fear of travelling (from the Greek word Hodo meaning: going, movement, travelling). This is a very different thing from a driving phobia which attaches specifically to driving and often to very specific driving situations.