Afraid to Drive? You Are Not Alone

by Anne Windermere Patient Advocate

There are some people who choose not to drive for various reasons including the high cost and maintenance of a car, living in a geographical area where it is more efficient and affordable to take the bus or subway, or even to protect the environment. But there are some people, like me, who don't drive because we are afraid to. One could definitely say that I have a driving phobia . Some of you have described your fear of driving as reflected by these shareposts: "Driving Anxiety " and "Driving and Anxiety

There isn't much in the literature about the fear of driving but it seems that there are various levels of anxiety related to specific driving situations. There are people who are afraid to drive at night, over bridges or water, in heavy traffic, in the rain, or in the winter. Then there are those people like me who are afraid to drive under any conditions.

Growing up, I did live in the city. My mother and I were poor and we never owned a car. Everywhere we went, we walked, took a bus, or a taxi. So when most teens were just starting to learn to drive, I had no incentive to take a driving test because I didn't have a car. But this changed in my twenties and early adulthood years. I got married and I definitely had access to a car, but I was reluctant to learn to drive. Every time I got behind the wheel I would sweat buckets, my heart would race, and I would freeze up. I gave every excuse in the book to not learn how to drive including the fact that we had a car with a stick shift. I did drive around in a parking lot quite a few times but that is about is far as I would allow the process to go.

In my late twenties I became pregnant and so that became my new excuse for not driving. Then there were other life events such as moving and my son being diagnosed with autism. I had always wanted to learn to drive but there was always some mental block which I could never figure out. What was making me so scared?

When I was in my mid-thirties I paid several hundred dollars to take driving lessons from a professional driving instructor. He told me the thing I already knew, "You would do just fine if only you weren't so nervous." Technically I could drive but my fear was still holding me back. The feelings I would have seemed to make little sense. I felt out of control as though the car were in control of me. I felt afraid that I would be killed or that I would kill someone if I drove a car. It took several more years before I felt ready to overcome this seemingly irrational fear.

It was the spring following my 39th birthday when I resolved to take my driving test once and for all and get my driver's license. I can remember that day with startling clarity. Most of all I remember my mood. I was getting worked up and found myself pacing the hallway. Something was right below the surface wanting to get out.

Several hours before I would go to take my driving test, I had a memory. It became more real as the moments passed. An image of my mother appeared and her hands clutched a steering wheel. I was a little girl, no older than four or five. We were in a car and I was terrified. The car was not moving but there were keys in the ignition. She was frantic and wasn't making sense. My mother, who suffered from schizophrenia, was having a mental breakdown.

In my vision I could see a man approach the window of the car. His face was red with anger. This was his car. He had been working on it when my mother got in and pushed me in as well. I heard the man's voice. He was cursing and yelling at my mother, "What are you doing? You could have killed me" My mother, who had never learned to drive a car, was attempting to steal this man's car.

My fright and terror as a little girl came flooding into my veins. I was re-living this trauma from my childhood on the morning before my driver's test. I collapsed to the floor in tears. My body shook involuntarily. The memory continued with the sound of sirens. My mother, yelling my name, was whisked into a police wagon and was taken away.

I had years of therapy in my twenties and this memory never emerged. I believe that it surfaced only when I was ready to face my fear head on. Somewhere in my subconscious I associated driving with this nameless fear of being out of control. Now, finally, I understood where it came from.

There was a big line ahead of me when I went to take my driving test that day. As I slowly moved forward I had much time to reflect. I was finally going to be able to do what my mother never got to do in her life. Soon I would be in the driver's seat after a lifetime of being a passenger.

A calm settled over me like a comfortable blanket. A woman's voice yelled, "Next!" followed by the question, "Are you ready?" For the first time in my life I answered, "Yes, I am ready."

And in case you are wondering, yes, I did pass the test.

I told you this very personal story so that you can see that it is possible to challenge your fear and anxiety head on no matter how long it may take. There is always hope for both growth and transformation in your life.

I do hope that you take the time to share your experiences and stories here of battling your fears. You never know when your story may be the inspiration for someone else to forge on ahead and overcome their unique challenges.

Anne Windermere
Meet Our Writer
Anne Windermere

These articles were written by a longtime HealthCentral community member who shared valuable insights from her experience living with multiple chronic health conditions. She used the pen name "Merely Me."