A driving phobia, also called vehophobia or a fear of driving, can be severe enough to be considered an intense, persistent fear or phobia.
Many people have driving anxiety, which is a form of anxiety that can range in severity. In some cases, the anxiety is constant and the person feels hesitant to drive.
In more severe cases, the anxiety is overwhelming and paralyzing to the point that the person completely refuses to drive at all. In the case where driving anxiety is intense and severe enough that a person refuses to drive at all, it becomes a driving phobia.
A fear of driving may escalate to a phobia during difficult driving situations, such as freeway driving or congested traffic.
People with a fear of driving may experience trembling, sweating, accelerated pulse, loss of sense of reality, and thoughts of losing control while driving, even in situations that are reasonably safe.
This fear will cause many to avoid driving, create excuses to not drive, or even refuse to get a driver’s license for years.
Those with associated post-traumatic stress disorder may experience intrusive thoughts or dreams of the original accident—both when driving and not—lack of emotional responsiveness and irritability.
There are three major categories of driving phobia, distinguished by their onset.
- The first and most common cause of a fear of driving is traffic accidents. These situations cause PTSD driving phobia, where the fear develops in response to a traumatic event. Usually, situations like these trigger a fear of driving in only specific situations related to the original cause, though it also can trigger a fear of driving entirely.
- The second most common form is driving phobia as a specific phobia. Because driving does involve some danger and the possibility of a collision, there does exist some fear or caution in many rational people. However, for some the fear of crashing, losing control of the car, being criticized or being in a dangerous situation will cause panic. It is not that uncommon for new drivers to have driving anxiety as they first learn to drive, especially for young adults who may be affected by their well-meaning parents or guardians who try to teach them, but lose their composure and make the new driver more anxious and on edge.
- The least common category is an extension of agoraphobia, the anxiety of having a panic attack while being in crowds or public places. One manifestation of agoraphobia is the inability to travel long distances away from home. When driving, an agoraphobe may feel that he is putting himself into a fearful situation, and driving phobia may develop.
The most common treatment for both driving phobia and general driving anxiety is behavior therapy—specifically, systematic desensitization.
This mainly involves exposure therapy and relaxation techniques while driving. Overcoming driving anxiety usually comes down to building confidence and familiarizing yourself with the routes you travel and the maneuvers that you will commonly need to make.
Additional driving training and practice is usually the best way to overcome general driving anxiety. Drivers who want to overcome their anxiety could use some or all of these methods to help gain exposure in a reduced-risk environment while they work on desensitizing themselves to the driving task.
This will allow them to feel more confident and prepared and less likely to suffer from anxiety over time.
- Take a professional driving class with a certified driving instructor.
- Have someone in the car that will make it a more comfortable environment.
- Drive during the daytime, in low-traffic areas.
- Allow extra time to get to destinations to avoid adding additional stress.
For driving phobia, an emerging method of treating this fear is through the use of virtual therapy. With repeated exposure, all of the subjects displayed significantly less variance from normal in heart rate acceleration, depression readings, subjective distress, and post-traumatic stress disorder ratings.