Driving anxiety

Written by Emily Whitton
Emily Whitton
Hypnotherapy Directory Content Team

Reviewed by Reframe Therapy
Last updated 17th April 2024 | Next update due 17th April 2027

The fear of driving, also known as vehophobia, is not widely talked about, but it’s more common than you might think. Here, we’ll explore why people might suffer from intense anxiety at the thought of getting behind the wheel, the symptoms of vehophobia, and what can be done to overcome it.

What is driving anxiety? 

Driving anxiety is the fear of driving, whether that’s when in the driver’s seat or even at the thought of having to go somewhere in the car.

People who feel anxious about driving, such as when not knowing the roads, may still be able to get behind the wheel, perhaps with a friend or family member supporting them, and do their daily commute with little hesitancy. However, those with a specific phobia of driving are likely to experience an impact on their daily life. They may be unable to commute to work or school, limit social interactions with friends and family, and it can prevent them from attending important appointments.

The terms 'vehophobia' and ‘driving anxiety’ are often used interchangeably. Although many people live with phobias without being formally diagnosed, for some people, having a diagnosis can be helpful. To be diagnosed with a specific phobia, symptoms are typically measured against an assessment tool, such as the American DSM-5 criteria or the International Classification of Diseases (ICD), developed by the World Health Organisation.

What causes a fear of driving?

More often than not, driving anxiety stems from being involved in, or witnessing, an accident (which can sometimes lead to PTSD) and the root danger that we put ourselves in each time we take to the road.

Some phobias are considered to be ‘irrational’, with many treatments focusing on changing the person’s mindset about their triggers. However, with driving anxiety, there is always an element of real danger and the unknown. There are thousands of vehicles on our roads every day, with each driver having personal responsibility. Although you may make every effort to ensure you are safe when behind the wheel, there is always a risk from other road users. This might make it harder to challenge than other phobias. 

Vehophobia can also be caused by the following:

  • being involved in a close call 
  • learning danger from close family or friends 
  • being involved in an incident with an angry driver 
  • knowing that you could be a dangerous driver (if angry or are panicked very easily when driving)
  • having a fear of failure (for example, following aggression from other drivers, regularly being overtaken, tailgated, or beeped at)
  • having a panic attack while driving
  • worries when in the car or on a journey such as:  
    • being trapped in a burning/drowning car
    • causing harm to other road users
    • being in an accident
    • breaking down and being stranded
    • getting lost

If your anxiety could affect your safety as a driver, you must report it to the DVLA by law.

Symptoms of driving anxiety

A specific fear of driving will present itself similarly to other phobias whilst being in the car or at the thought of having to drive somewhere. These symptoms can be emotional and/or physical, and can include the following:

  • intense fear and anxiety when thinking about driving or being in the driver's seat
  • going out of your way to avoid driving 
  • rapid heartbeat 
  • sweaty palms 
  • shaking 
  • nausea 
  • dizziness or light-headedness 

It's a phobia that never gets spoken about; everyone knows about arachnophobia and social phobia, but no one ever acknowledges driving phobia. I think it's because driving is such a necessary part of life that no one likes to acknowledge that it can be stressful.

- Dr Matthew Krouwel, Dbsch, NCH, C.Hyp, D.Hyp, P.Hyp, P.Hyp (CBT)

How can hypnotherapy help? 

Hypnotherapy is a great way to help overcome an intense fear of driving. It works by removing the negative feelings you may have about your capabilities as a driver and, over time, tries to bring back your confidence when getting behind the wheel. 

Hypnotherapy begins by initially assessing why you might feel this way about driving. Jessica Chapman outlines that, where a traumatic event is not the cause, we all start off as ‘equal’ when driving. In her article, “How to beat driving anxiety with hypnotherapy”, she mentions that we’ve all had to experience our first time in the driver’s seat and we’ve all had to learn, so, why is it that some people become more anxious than others?

Well, you might not necessarily realise it, but perhaps the way you feel about your driving ability has been influenced by those around you. For example, maybe your friend has said they don’t feel safe being your passenger, or you frequently have to deal with the “back seat driver” who questions your every move. The point is that these comments can chip away at our self-confidence and make us believe we aren’t capable, so we learn to think we’re unsafe and we become anxious. 

Hypnotherapists who can help with driving anxiety

Once the root cause has been established, hypnotherapy works to remind you of your skills and ability to control the situation, regardless of what others may think. This will allow you to remain calm, and, if you’ve been in or witnessed an incident, you can practice handling that particular bit of road with a changed outlook.

Finding a professional

If you're ready to overcome your fear of driving, you can reach out to a qualified hypnotherapist on Hypnotherapy Directory. 

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