Learn About Driving Anxiety & How to Manage It

Advertising & Editorial DisclosureLast Updated: 12/20/2022
Edited By     |  
4 Expert Contributions
Written By     |  

Driving anxiety, known as amaxophobia, is a feeling of nervousness while you’re behind the wheel. These emotions can be so overwhelming they can lead to the fear of being in any vehicle — as a passenger or a driver. Fortunately, you can prevent it from impacting your life by utilizing therapies, medications and emotional tools.

What Is Driving Anxiety?

Driving anxiety can be described as feelings of nervousness or anxiety when you are driving. These feelings can also manifest, even if you’re about to drive or just thinking about driving. More severe cases occur even when you’re just a passenger.

There are many ways in which driving anxiety manifests itself. For instance, some people may feel their heart racing or have difficulty breathing, while others may experience muscle tension or restlessness.

Why Do People Have Driving Anxiety?

Driving anxiety can be rooted in many factors, meaning no two people will have the same cause. Understanding the root cause can help you determine the course of action to address your driving anxiety.

  • carAccident icon

    You experienced or witnessed a car crash or accident

    Road accidents can be traumatizing, which can lead to driving anxiety. This can also lead to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or acute stress disorder.

  • heartWithPlus icon

    You lost a loved one to a car accident

    Losing a loved one to a car accident can easily make you nervous about being behind the wheel yourself. You may worry about hurting someone else or being hurt by another driver.

  • motionSickness icon

    You have an existing anxiety disorder

    An existing anxiety disorder can seep into other parts of your life, including driving. How this manifests and its severity will also depend on your existing anxiety disorder.

  • car icon

    You are afraid of losing control of the vehicle

    Handling a large vehicle can be daunting, especially if you don’t have much experience. This can cause anxiety while you’re on the road or before getting in the vehicle.

  • car2 icon

    You are triggered by highway driving or bridges and tunnels

    Driving on a fast highway can lead to a lot of pressure, while bridges and tunnels can lead to feelings of suffocation or claustrophobia. While these may seem like reasonable concerns, these can eventually turn into driving anxiety in the long run.

Driving Anxiety Signs & Symptoms

Drivers with anxiety can experience different symptoms, often depending on the extent of their fear behind the wheel. For instance, sweaty palms and a racing heart may be considered a mild reaction. In contrast, more severe reactions can involve a full-on anxiety attack, which can involve tingling or dizziness, feelings of fainting or trouble breathing.

1

Sweating more than usual

Be it your palms or through your whole body, excessive sweat is a symptom of anxiety.

2

Racing heart

A racing heartbeat is a common symptom of anxiety. This can also lead to you feeling restless or on edge.

3

Difficulties breathing

Anxiety can also manifest by making it difficult to breathe. You may feel your chest tighten up as well.

4

Dizziness

A nauseous, dizzy feeling is another symptom of anxiety. You may also feel lightheaded or feel faint.

5

Shakiness

If you are trembling before holding the wheel or while in the car, you may have driving anxiety.

6

Easily tired

Feeling exhausted after even a short drive can mean you spent a lot of mental effort, more than usual, to stay calm. This can be a sign of driving anxiety.

7

Tense

Being tense while driving can mean you’re anxious about being on the road.

8

Irritable and short

While conversation can be distracting, being irritable with others in the car can signal driving anxiety.

carColored icon
SHOULD YOU DRIVE WHILE EXPERIENCING DRIVER ANXIETY?

Generally, driving with anxiety is not illegal but should still be done with caution. After all, anxious emotions can control or distract any driver, preventing them from driving safely and/or with complete focus.

However, if you are taking medications for an existing anxiety disorder, you may not be able to drive. After all, certain medications can affect how you behave while driving as they can make you dizzy, tired or nauseous — all of which can further feed into driving anxiety. If you take anxiety medication, consult a professional to see if driving is advisable.

An illustration of an anxious driver driving.

The Unfavorable Effects of Feeling Anxious Behind the Wheel

Drivers with anxiety are more at risk on the road, as their emotions can prevent them from reacting correctly or driving safely. Driving anxiety can lead to fear of vehicles — even boats, aircraft or other public transportation. Understanding the long-term effects of driving anxiety can help you recognize that it’s time to take steps to improve it.

1

Increase the risk of accidents

The symptoms of anxiety can prevent you from properly focusing on driving safely. This increases the likelihood of accidents, which could put others on the road at risk.

2

Induce a panic attack

Left unmanaged, anxiety symptoms can culminate in anxiety or panic attacks. These are episodes of intense panic or fear caused by a trigger. If this happens while you’re on the road, you could cause an accident as you cannot properly manage your driving behavior.

3

Develop a phobia

Driving anxiety can also lead to other phobias, such as being afraid of simply being in a vehicle, car, bus or plane as a passenger. This can interfere with your personal and work life.

An illustration of an anxious driver learning steps that help her cope with driving anxiety.

How to Cope With Driving Anxiety

There are many ways drivers with anxiety can cope or overcome their symptoms and fears. Generally, getting professional help is the most advisable, but several other self-help tools may help depending on your situation.

Getting Professional Help

Mental health professionals have the training and expertise to help you overcome your anxiety. They can offer you support through a therapy program or medication, but remember that solutions can vary for everyone. While getting professional help is the most advisable solution for drivers with anxiety, it may still take trial and error to find a treatment that works best for you.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

care icon
HOW IT CAN HELP YOU

Cognitive behavioral therapy involves changing thought patterns. According to its principles, psychological problems are caused by unhelpful thinking. Some strategies involved in this therapy include facing your fears, using role-playing or calming your mind and body through a strong therapeutic relationship with your therapist.

Exposure Therapy

care icon
HOW IT CAN HELP YOU

Exposure therapy is mainly meant to help confront an individual’s fear, such as driving. There are several exposure therapies, such as in vivo and imaginal, and several paces, such as flooding or graded exposure. In vivo exposure, for instance, involves directly facing a feared object, while imaginal only requires that you vividly imagine it. Using a combination of different types and paces, you can reduce your fear of driving and even weaken previously-learned associations with it.

Medications

care icon
HOW IT CAN HELP YOU

There are several types of medications that can help relieve symptoms of driving anxiety. However, talking to your therapist about what works for you while driving is essential.

Acceptance & Commitment Therapy

care icon
HOW IT CAN HELP YOU

The goal of acceptance and commitment therapy is to increase psychological flexibility. This is achieved by combining acceptance and mindfulness strategies with commitment and behavior change. Using metaphors, paradoxes and experiential exercises, you can make healthy contact with feared and avoided feelings or thoughts, such as driving.

Self-Help Tools to Help You Ease Your Anxiety

Alongside consulting mental health professionals, you can make further progress with your driving anxiety using a few self-help strategies. This way, you can take control of your life and address your driving anxiety sooner.

1

Practice relaxation techniques

Using breathing and relaxation techniques can help you prevent anxiety attacks and manage anxiety symptoms, such as a racing heart.

2

Create a support system

Reliable support can help reassure you about your safety. Talk to friends and family, ask them to accompany you while driving or practice driving in a safe place with them.

3

Get comprehensive car insurance

Getting car insurance can help alleviate any financial worries. In particular, full coverage insurance is ideal as it can address damages and injuries for both yourself and other parties. Fortunately, it’s possible to get cheap full coverage car insurance and affordable car insurance simply by comparing quotes.

4

Look after your physical health

Regular exercise and healthy eating can greatly reduce your anxiety. Studies have found that exercise helps reduce anxiety by diverting you from your anxious symptoms, such as decreasing muscle tension and even changing your brain chemistry.

5

Try alternative and complementary therapies

Therapies like yoga, meditation, aromatherapy, massages and more are a great way to feel more relaxed, which can help reduce anxiety symptoms. Regularly practicing these can help control anxiety symptoms.

How You Can Help an Anxious Driver

If your friend or loved one is a driver with anxiety, it’s essential to support them as they overcome it. Whether a teen, a new driver or a senior, enough guidance and understanding can go a long way in reducing their anxiety.

1

Offer your help

Help a driver with anxiety by providing assistance however they need it. Offer them help in the car, with tips or practicing driving somewhere can reassure them that they aren’t alone.

2

Be patient

Patience is a must when helping a driver with anxiety. They will have many doubts and concerns; if you want to help, reassure them and provide them with actionable tips.

3

Avoid pressuring and criticizing them

It can be easy to pressure a driver with anxiety — but this is where extra patience comes in. If their driving needs improvement, give constructive feedback when they are no longer behind the wheel or if the car has stopped.

An illustration of an anxious driver contacting her insurance provider to file for compensation.

Can I Get Compensation if I Develop Driving Anxiety After a Car Accident?

Emotional damages can be considered as an injury, which means it is possible to get compensation if you develop driving anxiety after a car accident. However, filing for this can be tricky if you do not follow proper procedures. Generally, you will be asked to provide documents proving that you have been diagnosed with anxiety or have undergone mental duress, which means needing to see a professional.

How to Claim Your Compensation

If you experience anxiety driving after an accident and want compensation, it’s essential to do so by following the right steps. While this can vary from insurer to insurer, there are a few steps you can start with that are universal.

1

See a mental health professional

Seeing a mental health professional can help you determine the severity of your anxiety. They can also help you determine the steps to move forward.

2

Get a diagnosis

Insurers will want a professional opinion on the severity of your anxiety to determine compensation. Therefore, it’s essential to see a mental health professional to get help for yourself and get a diagnosis for your compensation.

3

Prepare medical records

If you suffered injuries from a car accident related to your driving anxiety, it’s also important to prepare these records.

4

Calculate the cost of the accident and aftermath

If you suffer financially from the accident, you can also calculate the cost of your losses. Prepare a statement and any related documents on claims related to the accident.

carInsurance icon
DOES YOUR CAR INSURANCE PREMIUM INCREASE WITH ANXIETY?

It depends. Your insurance premiums may increase if you get into an accident due to your driver’s anxiety and are found liable. However, this still depends on your insurer. It’s best to ask your agent if you aren’t sure. If your premiums increase, there are a few ways you can still reduce your car insurance costs.

Expert Insight on Driving Anxiety

If you’re trying to tackle your driving anxiety, MoneyGeek has gathered a few expert opinions.

  1. What are your recommendations for drivers with driving anxiety?
  2. What tools or programs do you recommend for drivers with anxiety to move past it?
Jason Phillips
Jason Phillips

Licensed Clinical Social Worker and Certified Life Coach, Peace & Prosperity

Boone Christianson
Boone Christianson

Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist

Dr. Camille Humes
Dr. Camille Humes

Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor

Stephanie Gilbert
Stephanie Gilbert

LMFT, BICBT-CC, Stephanie Gilbert and Associates, LLC

Resources for Anxious Drivers

Driving with anxiety can be challenging, but many resources are available to help. MoneyGeek gathered a few you can start with.

About the Author


Nathan Paulus headshot

Nathan Paulus is the director of content marketing at MoneyGeek. Nathan has been creating content for nearly 10 years and is particularly engaged in personal finance, investing, and property management. He holds a B.A. in English from the University of St. Thomas Houston.


sources