Panicked Behind The Wheel: How To Overcome An Obstinate Fear Of Driving

Although having a fear of driving may limit the freedom you have in life, you might be able to get by taking buses, commuter trains, cabs, or the subway, but if circumstances suddenly mandate that you learn how to drive, you're faced with an overwhelming task. Driving has real dangers, but fearing them beyond rational bounds means you have a real phobia and, therefore, need real help.

The following five-step plan can get you moving in the right direction right away.

1. Practice On Toys And Games

If you're too anxious to actually slide behind the wheel or a real vehicle, visit your local mall or other outlet where they have driving simulation video games. Begin with any machine that has a steering wheel, moving onto the types where you sit in a real seat and operate pedals. While it may be difficult at first, you should be able to progress through this routine with the knowledge that you're not really immersed in traffic or rolling along a highway at 50 or 60 miles an hour. Start at your own pace and try to move a little further forward with each visit to the machines.

2. Consider Therapy If Needed

Cognitive therapy may be very beneficial to you in overcoming driving anxiety, as it can even help dental patients take the big chair with little or no sedation! It involves changing the way you think about a situation, through various techniques with a therapist. They might ask you to imagine yourself behind the wheel, for example, and describe how it makes you feel, then ask you to mimic driving, sit in a real car with them or use the video driving experience, all of which prompts you to face the fear you feel, in order to overcome it.

A therapist can also teach you breathing and relaxation exercises you can call upon, right before driving on your own.

3. Find A Good Driving School

Once you're ready, sign up for driving lessons and don't worry about telling them your fears. This information will be useful for them in preparing your lessons and scheduling your driving time. Although it may cost more to have extra sessions in a parking lot, if you can arrange for it, take all the time you need to get more comfortable behind the wheel and maximize the value of your training time. You'd much rather have a few panic attacks under controlled circumstances, where no actual crash will occur, than try to overcome your anxieties in real traffic.

You might also have even higher expectations for yourself on paper test scores than what the driving school does; for example, if they consider a score of 80, hypothetically to be passing, shoot for 90 or above. This will give you more confidence moving forward and prove to yourself, you really know the rules of the road.

4. Take An Abundance of Precautions Like Everyone Should

Don't just force your way through your fears; take the real, professional-recommended steps to keep you and your passengers as safe as possible. If you're all wearing seat belts, you are not tired or otherwise compromised in terms of cognition, and you avoid in-car distractions, you're all much safer. Even people who have no fear of driving should be very afraid of using cell phones behind the wheel, as doing so accounts for around 26 percent of all the accidents in the United States. Taking every precaution possible should give you some comfort, making the process of leaving the driveway less frightening:

  • Make sure the vehicle is well-maintained and meets all safety standards.
  • Insist that everyone use seat belts.
  • Keep kids in the right seats and in the rear seats.
  • Wear practical shoes that won't get caught on pedals.
  • Know how to get where you're going, so you're not distracted or disoriented trying to get there.
  • Never drive when you feel physically or mentally disadvantaged, such as from insomnia, prescription medication, stress, alcohol, etc.
  • Yield to anyone else on the road if you feel intimidated, rather than attempting a maneuver you're not confident with.
  • Turn your phone off upon getting behind the wheel and pre-set your music and vehicle temperature settings, to avoid fidgeting while driving.

5. Go The Extra Mile With Professional Driving School

Beyond the basic driving school everyone issued a license must go through, you could provide yourself with an extra level of confidence and abilities with professional driving school. There, you'll learn serious defensive driving tactics, how to regain control of your vehicle in a slide or while hydroplaning, and more advanced skills. Such training may even lower your insurance, but it will certainly increase your confidence and driving abilities, hopefully helping you alleviate any remaining fears. To learn more about driving school, check out a site like

Conquering a fear of driving is no easy task; however, if you develop a plan tailored to your thinking and your life, you should be able to succeed. Have a good support system of friends and relatives who will help you through the process, get top-notch training at a driving school and teach yourself how to use your own mind, along with deep breathing, to get control of racing thoughts, so you have the opportunity to become a level-headed, highly skilled, and very confident driver.