7 Ways to Overcome Your Fear of Driving
Everyone knows that it’s dangerous to talk on a cell phone while driving. In many states, it’s now illegal, and for good reason; safe driving means focusing on the road, not your speed dial. But did you know that being highly anxious while driving is just as dangerous as driving while talking on a cell phone?
No one has yet developed a hands-free device to overcome fear of driving, but there are a number of easy and useful strategies to help you stay calm when you’re behind the wheel.
The Dangers of Driving While Stressed
A recent study done by Ides Wong for the Queensland Center for Accident Research & Road Safety demonstrates just how dangerous being anxious while driving can be. The study recruited 75 drivers between the ages of 17-46, subjected them to a number of stressful tasks or situations, then assessed their driving performance on a series of driving tasks. No simulations here – these were real-life roads, complete with traffic, billboards, and other common road hazards.
“Being anxious makes drivers unable to fully focus their attention on the road, particularly in urban areas, where there are plenty of distractions, and when time-pressured,” according to Wong.
Since being distracted, or “inattention,” is cited in many studies as a primary cause of fatal car accidents, the importance of learning to overcome fear of driving isn’t just a luxury; it’s a necessary tool for any driver concerned with safety.
According to the researcher, “It is important to recognize that being anxious can affect driving ability in the same way as taking your eyes off the road or talking on a mobile phone.” Think about that last sentence for a moment. Someone who drives in an anxious state is being just as risky as someone who is talking on their cell phone, or has turned around to grab a map from the back seat. I’m sure you’ll agree that this is not a very comforting thought.
Stop the Cycle Before it Starts…
The Queensland study didn’t restrict itself to people who have driving anxiety, which is a classifiable phobia or psychological condition. But people who suffer from driving anxiety have an extra incentive to reduce tension at the wheel.
Driving anxiety is a learned condition. Something bad happens on the road, and so anticipating the next trip is stressful, even before you get in the car. You’re at a disadvantage even before you start, and each negative thought contributes to the process so that you’ll have more bad memories associated with driving the next time, thereby increasing your fear.
Over time the anxiety snowballs, resulting in a greater and greater impulse to avoid driving altogether. Not a pretty picture. How to overcome fear of driving? The 7 tips below are equally effective whether you have a certified driving phobia, or are just about to get in the car for your morning commute.
Overcoming Fear of Driving: 7 Easy but Effective Ways to Reduce Tension
1. Allow Extra Time
This seems like a no brainer, but how many times do you plan to get somewhere exactly on time, and then get lost or stuck in traffic? Give yourself that extra time before you start so that you don’t have to watch the clock as you drive. There’s nothing wrong with getting somewhere 10 minutes early, right?
2. Avoid Traffic
When possible, of course. Getting stuck in traffic is the easiest way to arrive somewhere late (see #1), and driving in heavy traffic has been shown to increase tension and aggression. Is there a slightly longer route that has less traffic, and possibly even nicer scenery? Then that’s the route you want to take.
3. Don’t Load Up on Coffee
Getting caffeinated, especially before a long drive, is standard procedure for many of us. But coffee is one of the leading precursors to a panic attack. Even if you’ve had your double latte a few hours before, caffeine may still be in your system.
4. Listen to Music
The right kind of music reduces stress levels at the same time that it sharpens your focus. Pick music that is not too loud and not too fast, but rather something familiar that you enjoy. Also, try to avoid talk radio, which is distracting and anxiety provoking.
5. No Clutter
Driving in a car full of coffee cups and candy bar wrappers is distracting, and doesn’t make for a pleasant ride. If you’re driving by yourself and have stacks of books or equipment, store it on the back seat or in the trunk so that it’s out of sight. No one likes getting hit with groceries as they make a hard right turn.
6. Keep the Kids Happy
Easier said than done, but this can be a game changer, especially on long drives. Make sure your kids take their favorite games and books, or even DVDs if your car is so equipped. Keep snacks and drinks handy so no one gets cranky. Food and drinks are a very good idea even if it’s just you in the car, to keep your energy and attention levels up.
7. Stay Comfortable
Nowadays, most car seats are adjustable in a number of spots. Getting the lumbar support (lower back) just so is especially important for reducing tension in your body. The same goes for the steering wheel. Also, save those settings if your car permits. For long drives, think about the right kind of shoes; you can always put those dress shoes or stilettos on the floor and drive in sneakers until you arrive at your destination.
These are all simple, common-sense ways to reduce tension whenever you’re in your car and none of them involve any significant expense or difficulty.
Odds are you’re using a few of these methods already, so why not put them all together in a checklist and keep the list handy in your glove compartment. The single best way to overcome fear of driving is to prevent it from happening in the first place, before it gets out of hand.