What Studies Reveal About Driving Anxiety and Ability



Driving anxiety, or the specific fear of driving (“driving phobia”), usually develops after a highly stressful driving-related event, such a car accident. For some people, the fear begins at a young age and continues through adulthood. For others, the anxiety is a direct consequence of an unpleasant event later in life; before that, they may have been able to drive with little or no fear.

Living with Driving Anxiety

Driving anxiety can have many negative repercussions. People who struggle with driving-related anxiety are often put at a serious disadvantage. They may find it difficult to obtain a license, and many struggle with driving on a regular basis, if they drive at all. Driving anxiety can hinder the afflicted person’s freedom to travel independently or even to drive to work every day if public transportation isn’t an option.

Recent Findings about Overly Anxious Drivers

Unfortunately, there is much less anxiety research focusing on the specific effects of driving anxiety and driving phobia. Within the past few years, a small number of theories about driving with high anxiety have been proposed.

The results of a report from 2008 show that participants with driving anxiety did not perform as well on a driving assessment as non-anxious participants. The idea that a small amount of anxiety can enhance performance is mentioned in the study, but the participants were mainly high-anxiety. The researchers stated that further data is needed before it can be determined whether people who have a fear of driving really are worse drivers.

A second study done in 2009 takes a different approach. The goal was to see if people with high levels of anxiety (related to driving or otherwise) were more likely to have bad driving habits like road rage and drunk driving. It turns out that the high-anxiety participants were significantly worse drivers than the other participants. The overly anxious participants, most of whom were women, were more careless, aggressive and angry when driving. The same group of high-anxiety people was shown to be responsible for more auto accidents.

Dealing with Driving Anxiety

Treating driving anxiety is very important for people who need to drive. When successful, it can potentially improve the overly anxious driver’s quality of life. Considering the findings of the second study, it seems driving with untreated anxiety of any form may actually be hazardous.

One popular treatment method for anxiety is exposure therapy. Virtual reality is a unique option that can be used in exposure therapy to make anxious drivers more comfortable with driving. Learning defensive driving techniques can also help anxious people to feel safer and better prepared on the road.

Recommended Resources

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{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

mikedavis February 22, 2013 at 8:59 pm

I know my driving anxiety makes me a worse driver. I’ve come too close to getting in accidents to think otherwise. The fearful thoughts and anxious feelings of panic become incredibly overwhelming, until that’s all you can think about.


Rich Presta February 24, 2013 at 12:45 am

It’s true that when you get anxious it’s very difficult to focus on anything but the fear itself, which is actually a symptom of anxiety that attempts to keep you working on the “threat” at hand. Unfortunately, there’s almost never an actual threat to attend to except the one we’ve created in our own minds!


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