Is 'Vehophobia' Steering your Life?

Overcoming driving anxiety​

A maxim for (driving) life?

I had an erm,“friend”, who experienced a driving phobia. Its origin involved a Ford Mondeo, a tight supermarket car park space, a nervous passenger, a kindly passer-by and a small crowd of concerned citizens who sprung up out of nowhere to watch the reversing drama unfold. For some time afterwards it was very difficult to take the wheel without a great deal of anxiety.

For my “friend” (ok, it was me), more than 20 years later, this car park memory now raises a small giggle, however there are a huge number of people for whom the prospect of driving a car can easily initiate a full-on panic attack.

According to Joanne Mallon, a recovered phobic herself, and author of the book How to Overcome Fear of Driving, the number of people afraid about taking to the road is unquantified. “It is absolutely everywhere, but it’s a hidden thing,” she explains. “When I talk about the book, so many people say, 'I thought it was just me’.”

The root cause of the phobias – referred to as ‘vehophobia’- is often difficult to uncover, however the underlying cause in many cases can be linked to past incidents. A particularly difficult driving examiner, a road traffic accident or a mechanical failure have all been known to induce driving fears into drivers new and old.

The severity of the condition differs from person to person and while some people may have an irrational fear of driving on motorways, avoiding specific roundabouts or junctions, others may fear getting into the driving seat altogether.

Official research is scant in this area, however over 1000 searches related to driving fears were undertaken on google UK within the past month – giving us a small insight into the scale of vehophabia.

If you think you, or even one of your own friends, may need some pointers to help ‘steer’ them in the right direction, here are some tips and advice.

  1. Minimise external stress and anxiety - External stress factors and life’s worries can have an unfortunate domino effect and knock confidence in other areas of life. Have a look at what may be stressing you out and take steps to reduce general stress levels. Something as simple as getting on the road before rush hour may help reduce stress levels in the car
  2. Slowly does it - More of than not, a road traffic accident causes us to become fearful of getting behind the wheel again or abandoning driving altogether. Start off again by sitting in the car while it’s stationary. Slowly build up to driving around the block or up and down a straight round. Consciously make a decision to drive a little further each day and build your confidence back up.
  3. Use Music to keep you calm - Music has a unique link to our emotions and brain activity; just ask anyone who has ever been for a relaxing massage! A study of driver behaviour among teens, carried out in 2013 reported that the teens made less mistakes listening to the ‘safe’ music provided by the researchers compared to having their own choice of music or no music at all. Soft, classical music is recommended to keep your nerves at bay.
  4. Drive with a reassuring person - Driving with someone who has a naturally calm and composed demeanor can go a long way to reassuring you and take you from a nervous driver to a calm confident one. Sometimes all it takes for you to get through the transition phase is someone telling you that you are doing well!
  5. Seek professional help - If your fear of driving is proving to be disruptive and getting in the way of life, then it’s time to seek out some professional help. Contact your doctor who would be able to point you towards a psychologist, a psychiatrist, or a qualified therapist. You may also find it useful to join a local support group with people who suffer similar concerns when getting behind the wheel.