Anxiety about driving

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After a car accident, it is normal to have feelings of anxiety and fear about driving.

Some people experience anxiety as a driver, passenger or pedestrian.

For other people, their anxiety could be limited to a specific situation. This could be driving with a passenger, being a passenger in a taxi, or crossing a road in the rain.

Some people recognise that their thoughts about driving don't make sense. They may think, “What if I lose control?” or “What if I have another accident?”

Sometimes people start to avoid situations where they have experienced fear or anxiety.

What is anxiety?

Fear is a rational response to situations that can pose a threat to our safety.

Fear can help us to survive. For example, if we are face to face with a tiger, it is likely that we would respond with fear. This helps us because our fear creates a series of physical and behavioural changes in us. These changes help us to either run from the danger or get ready to fight the danger.

The difference between anxiety and fear is that anxiety happens when we are not in real danger. Symptoms of anxiety include:

  • a racing heart,
  • quick breathing,
  • a dry mouth,
  • tightness in the chest,
  • hot or cold flushes,
  • shakiness,
  • nausea,
  • restlessness,
  • racing thoughts, and
  • worry.

Avoidance and anxiety

Often people start to avoid situations that create uncomfortable symptoms of anxiety. This can provide relief from the symptoms in the short term, but it can lead to an increase in anxiety in the long term. This happens because you never get the chance to disprove your fear of the situation you avoid.

Do you have anxiety about driving?

To find out if you have anxiety about driving, ask yourself these questions:

  • Do you currently drive?
    • If yes, is there anything that you avoid when driving? For example, driving alone, driving with passengers, driving in specific locations or conditions
  • If you don’t currently drive, what is stopping you from driving?
  • Do you experience any anxiety symptoms when you are a passenger?
    • If yes, when do you experience these symptoms?
  • Are you more dependent on friends, relatives or public transport for travel since your accident? Is this related to anxiety?
  • Does driving anxiety interfere with parts of your life? For example, your work, shopping, relationships or confidence.

The answers to these questions will give you a clearer picture of whether you have anxiety about driving.

If you think you do have anxiety about driving, there are things you can do to overcome it.

Treatment of driving anxiety

To overcome anxiety about driving, you will need to face the situations you avoid.

Most people prefer to do this in a gradual way. They start with a situation that creates a small amount of anxiety. Then they build up to a situation that creates a large amount of anxiety.

For example, you may start by managing your anxiety when you sit in the driver’s seat of your car, parked in the driveway. You may then move on to manage anxiety when you sit in the car with the motor running.

The types of situations you need to face will depend on:

  • the severity of your anxiety, and
  • the specific situations in which you experience anxiety.

Before you start to face such situations, you should practice some coping strategies. Practise beforehand can help you deal with a stressful situation when the time comes. Breathing and muscle relaxation techniques can help you manage the physical symptoms of anxiety. Challenging negative thoughts about yourself and the situation can also be helpful.

How do I start?

Psychologists are experienced at helping people manage anxiety. Good psychological treatment will educate you about:

  • anxiety,
  • the skills you need to help you cope with anxiety symptoms,
  • how to develop a list of situations that will gradually increase your anxiety, and
  • how to work through this list until you can face each situation and manage your anxiety.

If you want to see a psychologist

If you have anxiety about driving, speak to your doctor about how you are feeling. They can help you get the support you need.

You can find a psychologist at the Australian Psychology Society website.

If you need help to choose a psychologist, speak to your treating health care provider for advice.

Once you find a therapist, you can make an appointment. Let them know you are a TAC client and give them your claim number. The psychologist can bill the TAC for your treatment.