Fear of Learning to Drive: Causes, Symptoms and How to Overcome It

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You love going to places and road trips are your favorite past-time activity, but only while sitting in the passenger seat. The mere thought of getting behind the wheels scares the living daylights out of you, and you panic in the worst way possible. 

Fear of learning to drive has its roots in the fear of driving. It’s the scary possibility of getting behind the wheel that stops a person from learning how to do it. Although it lacks an official name, it’s the most common fear amongst people, with varying levels of severity. Some only fear driving specific kinds of vehicles, while others may fear driving on certain terrains and in weather conditions. 

For many, the fear of driving stems from traumatic experiences in the past or they simply cannot trust their judgment on the road. While the outlook of all fears is different, most fears related to driving a vehicle are linked with the amount of trust you have in yourself when it comes to vehicle control.

In this article, we’ll explore the basis of the fear of learning to drive: causes, symptoms and how to overcome it.

Cause of Driving Phobia

Although the fear of learning to drive is fairly common amongst people, there may be a host of different causes that are giving birth to this fear. The following are some of the most common causes for a person to fear driving or learning it.

A traumatic experience in the past

Road accidents are a common occurrence in heavily crowded towns and cities. Being in a car accident can take a real toll on your mental wellbeing. It can leave you with post-traumatic stress or make you fear getting into a car again. The experience alone can leave you with such a trauma that you may spend the next few days, months or sometimes years replaying the experience in your mind. 

It’s only natural for someone who drove a car into a lamp post or into a wall because they lost control of the vehicle to fear to get behind the wheel again. Their biggest concern is making the mistake again, or some might even fear that they don’t have any control over their driving. Either way, it’s a traumatic condition that causes this fear in your mind and makes you hesitate or refuse to take the wheel again. The repetitive thoughts and fears can be daunting, and if asked to drive a car, your anxiety could only become worse.

Driving alone strips you of your confidence

You learned to drive from a driving instructor, you handled the vehicle perfectly well in their presence, you were okay taking the car through heavy traffic. But when the time comes to sit behind the wheels with no one else in the car with you, you freak out, your forehead starts sweating, your hands begin to shiver and suddenly the entire notion of driving a car on the road becomes a scary possibility. 

Sometimes called performance anxiety, it’s the thought of driving so poorly that you’ll attract negative attention. Somewhere mixed with the thought of driving alone, you may also worry about getting into an accident. You also incessantly think about driving either too fast or too slow and the anticipation of slowing down or disturbing the traffic behind makes you anxious. All these thoughts get jumbled up in your head and take the form of a fear that stops you from driving alone. 

Fear of getting trapped is often paralyzing

The fear of enclosed spaces, also known as claustrophobia, can also be one of the causes of driving phobia. It’s not the act of driving that scares the people, it’s the thought of being in a close space that makes them shiver. Some people with claustrophobia even report that they are afraid of being in the vehicle more than the thought of driving that vehicle. 

Losing control of the vehicle

Another major cause of driving phobia is the trigger that is related to losing control. It’s not the idea of driving that scares you the most, it’s speeding up the vehicle and not being able to control it when you have to, that scares you the most. 

Your mind is constantly consumed by the thoughts of bumping into the roadside or crashing into a lamp post or your car’s brakes failing when you have to pull over or slow down. While you know that cars are the most efficient transportation option, if you simply don’t feel safe enough to be behind the wheel, no matter how focused you are, something will distract you, causing you to lose control of the vehicle. 

Avoiding driving due to anxiety

Most people don’t realize that anxiety is not synonymous with a phobia. When your body experiences anxiety at the possibility of doing something or something happening, it is natural to want to avoid that thing for a long time. Your total refusal to indulge in such a thing or activity can give birth to a full-blown phobia. A phobia is a fear that paralyzes your mind and makes you react irrationally towards things you fear.

Fear of accidents and fatalities

Another most common cause of the driving phobia is dystychiphobia, also known as the fear of accidents. People who have been in an accident before or witnessed someone die during a car accident can develop this phobia. They try to avoid situations that can put them in the risk of physical danger, in their head. While driving is not a risk-free activity, the chances of getting into an accident, in the mind of a phobic, is double or triple the actual odds of being in an accident while driving. This causes a strong risk aversion in them and heightens their fear when they are presented with an opportunity to drive a car. 

Symptoms of Driving Phobia

You lead a healthy lifestyle, you eat clean food, workout daily, and don’t indulge in smoking or drinking. But whenever you so much as open the door to your car, your heart starts beating fast, your forehead begins to sweat, and you feel lightheaded. No, you certainly don’t need to go see a doctor; you just need to overcome your driving fear

Symptoms of driving phobia are the same as any other form of anxiety. Your body goes into “fight or flight” response and the fear of death is triggered instantly at the sight of the car’s driving seat. 

Usually, the symptoms of driving anxiety show up when you are triggered, either at the prospect of driving the car alone, or at the sight of a heavy vehicle on the road when you are driving, or simply by the prospect of driving the car through difficult terrain. But it’s also the experience you had while driving that can contribute heavily to the fear or be the sole cause of it. 

If you are experiencing the following symptoms before or during driving, you might have a driving phobia that needs attention.

  • Heart palpitations
  • Perspiring and sweaty palms
  • Disorientation
  • Confusion
  • Dizziness
  • Dry mouth
  • Shortness of breath

How to overcome the fear of driving

If you are suffering from driving phobia and think that it’s going to get better with time or avoid thinking about it altogether, you are making yourself prone to further fears. It’s always best to pay attention to the problem and get it fixed as soon as you can. Driving phobia is a problem and it should be overcome through various means and methods. 

Professional Treatment

When you are having any kind of anxiety or phobia, the best course of action is to consult a therapist for professional treatment. Many professional therapists are trained in treating phobias, be it of any kind, through talk therapy. If left untreated, this phobia can take a serious form and make your life extremely difficult. 

Handle Panic Attacks

If you experience panic attacks every time you sit behind the wheel, or every time you have to drive through a particular road or terrain, your heart starts beating fast with your palms sweating badly. 

There is a need for you to address your panic attacks separately. You should learn how to better handle panic attacks if you wish to solve this problem. A practical way of handling panic attacks is managing your reactions when you are in situations other than driving. 

For instance, if you experience panic when you see a long line and your first instinct is to avoid the line altogether, try waiting in the line for starters. As you do that, you are actually expanding your threshold and facing the fear head-on. 

Try deep breathing

Always remember that a phobia is an irrational fear; it has nothing to do with reality. If your brain signals you that there is a danger ahead and your body paralyzes in response to that stimuli, tell yourself that this is just your brain’s voice in your head, and dry to dismiss the thoughts by breathing in the fresh air and exhaling openly. 

When people are in a state of anxiety or panic, they tend to take rapid, shallow breaths that are siphoned directly from the chest. 

It’s the type of breathing that you do unknowingly, upsetting the oxygen and carbon dioxide levels in your body that result in increased heart rate, or dizziness. Your muscles tend to tense up and you feel other physical sensations as a result of disturbed breathing. 

So the next time you have to drive a vehicle, and your body begins to give up, draw a deep breath consciously and exhale while staying conscious of your breath. 

Do it several times until your mind calms down and the danger seems far away. This is an excellent technique to handle panic attacks. 

Tips that can help

Just because you have driving phobia doesn’t mean that you may never be able to drive a car again. Millions of people overcome their driving phobia each year and you can do so too. All you need to do is believe that you can, seek professional help, try deep breathing, focus in the present moment, and try the following tips, when and wherever needed.

  1. Sit in the car for five minutes every day. Take in the interior of the car, hold the wheels even if your palms sweat, breathe deeply and tell yourself that you are not in danger. Once you have overcome your fear of just sitting behind the wheel, start the car and sit in it for 5 minutes for a few days. Each day, you’ll move a bit away from your phobia and solve this problem once and for all.
  2. Find new ways to relax. Meditate every day for a few minutes. It’s best if you do it in the car. Search online and find videos on guided meditations. 
  3. Use positive self-affirmation in a loud voice. Tell yourself that your feelings are normal and you will be fine in the next 10 minutes. Remind yourself that this anxiety will not hurt you.
  4. Create a calm environment in your car. Sometimes just the calmness of the air around you takes you out of discomfort and helps you defeat your fears. Keep an anti-stress car freshener in your vents to ensure calm nerves.
  5. Try progressive muscle relaxation (PMR). Tighten your body muscles and then relax them. You can do that by clenching your fist for 7 – 10 seconds then releasing it for 15 to 20 seconds while your attention remains on how the tension left your muscles in those 20 seconds. Repeat the exercise every day with your hands, feet, head, back, and toes. Effective PMR can help you manage panic attacks and improve your sense of control on the mood and ultimately on the car.


Driving is a serious business and should never be taken lightly. When you are driving a vehicle, you are responsible for the safety of yourself and the passengers sitting next to you. This is a big responsibility but not one that you should shy away from. Unfortunately, road accidents do happen, but you have to remember that they are much more unlikely to happen if you yourself drive safely and responsibly.

Learning how to drive a vehicle may seem daunting and challenging at the start, but then again, so do most things in life. It is through learning and practice that one improves and becomes more confident and driving is no different. Be patient and seek the help of professionals. Before long you too will feel pretty comfortable behind the wheel!