Do you have a fear of driving?Mon, 02/10/2017
Many of us feel uneasy driving certain routes, or perhaps driving at a particular time, or during heavy rain. But what if that fear was about driving in general?
Gemma Briggs, The Telegraph, reports:
Unlike fear of washing (ablutophobia) or bridges (gephyrophobia), there is no medical term for fear of driving. It can encompass everything from people who avoid a certain roundabout on a daily basis, to those who carefully plan routes to eliminate turning right, and people who cannot bring themselves to open the driver’s door.
Wobbling on jelly legs into a meeting at the Motor Sports Association last year, I proudly announced that I had just driven on the M25 for the first time. The incredible thing wasn’t that I had tackled a small section of that notorious motorway, but that I had admitted – at the HQ of UK motorsport – that I was overcoming a driving phobia.
According to Joanne Mallon, a recovered phobic and author of How to Overcome Fear of Driving, the number of people scared about taking to the road is unknown.
“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’.”
Little research exists, although a 2011 survey found a third of Spanish licence-holders were scared of driving in certain circumstances. The root of many cases can be found in past incidents. Mallon had, shockingly, fallen out of a car on to a dual carriageway when she was four, and had later been at the wheel of a vehicle whose brakes failed.
Embarrassingly, I can cite no such traumatic experience, although having a traffic police officer for a father and working in motor racing have most likely convinced my subconscious that driving can be a dangerous business. I gained my licence at the third attempt 11 years ago and can still hear the examiner’s words ringing in my ears: “You’ve passed… but only just.”
As I lived in London I didn’t own a car and, believing I was incompetent, rarely drove. So when I took a job that required travelling to remote racing circuits across the world, my bad back became a convenient excuse. I would hitch a lift with other journalists and brace myself for the editor’s rage when I put through an expenses claim stuffed with taxi receipts.
The need to drive increased after giving birth to my first child, when I couldn’t get to coffee mornings with other mothers. Even this wasn’t enough to overcome what was now a huge mental hurdle and so I forced my own hand by moving to a village with no public transport. After a couple of refresher lessons, 12 months ago I was back behind the wheel.
Unlike many driving phobics, I enjoy the relative safety of motorway driving, but the country lanes I negotiate every day throw up enough tricky situations – from overtaking horses to crossing a bridge with a blind crest – to make me reach for Mallon’s book for tips on keeping calm. The best of these is to recall past successes. A gentle reminder that I haven’t yet crashed my Renault Modus on the preschool run helps stop my palms sticking to the steering wheel with nervous sweat each morning.
Stress appears to be one of the major factors in fear of driving and I’ve benefited from the advice to use music as a mood booster and watch my diet, exchanging a morning espresso for a bowl of porridge to keep my blood-sugar levels even. Some readers may take up the book’s suggestion to repeat a mantra before setting off – “I love to drive. I love to drive” – or even to park and sit listening to comedy recordings to help view the car as a happy place. I’ll not admit to trying those, although I understand the feeling that you will attempt anything to get back on the road. As Mallon says: “The mental pressure of living with a fear that you have not dealt with will affect every area of your life. It’s not just about the driving and getting from A to B.”
If you have been diagnosed with severe anxiety that affects your concentration or behaviour you may need to notify the DVLA. But there is much professional help available and Mallon’s book suggests the AA’s free two-hour Drive Confidence course, or visiting an anxiety expert or therapist.
Penny Ling is a hypnotherapist who overcame a fear of driving brought on in part by a former newspaper job that included Tippexing-out victims in photos of car crashes. As part of her treatment, she uses a Neuro Linguistic Programming (NLP) technique to scramble the negative message coming from the subconscious of the sufferer.
“A phobia is to do with the fight or flight response,” she says. “When you are ready to get into the car you think about the bad experiences you’ve had, or the bad experiences you might have. We scramble those negative thoughts and replace them with something humorous. I also do a 'reframe’ to visualise a good journey.”
I spent 10 years feeling stupid because I couldn’t put my driving licence to use, but I now relish the freedom of driving to a park with my toddler or hopping in the car to visit family or friends. “Fear of driving can stop people living,” says Ling. “You turn into a child having to rely on public transport or other people. If people have not had a phobia they do not know what it is like.
“It’s not just being silly; these kinds of thoughts and emotions paralyse you. If driving is something you can avoid, then you avoid it.”
Truth be told, driving is, or at least can be, dangerous. To have a fear of something potentially dangerous is completely normal – healthy, even. What’s important is managing that fear and not letting it define who you are, or how you drive. A hesitant driver, or one overwhelmed by fear, will inevitably be a risk on the road. It’s important to remain calm, confident and observant when driving, to ensure the safety of yourself, your passengers and other road users.