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For most adults, driving is a necessary part of life. People must drive to get work, go to school, attend appointments, run errands, socialize and care for their families. Sometimes, driving can seem very scary. For some people, this fear grows into an irrational fear of driving and interferes with their life. When this happens, learning more about this feeling is a beginning step to challenging the fear of driving and finding more comfort on the road.
What Is Vehophobia?
Vehophobia is a phobia of driving. A phobia is an irrational fear that leads to anxiety symptoms and possibly panic. The DSM V-TR considers vehophobia an anxiety disorder called a specific phobia. Someone with vehophobia experiences intense fear and even panic about driving. They may avoid driving altogether or feel extremely uncomfortable about driving. This fear can interfere with their lives and prevent them from engaging with people, going to work or attending to other responsibilities.
Vehophobia vs.Other Similar Phobias
Other specific phobias lead to anxiety and fears related to driving, cars and travel in general. While they may manifest similarly, there are differences among phobias.
When someone has amaxophobia, they fear being in a vehicle. People may fear riding in a car as a driver or passenger. It can create such fear that someone refuses to get in a vehicle to go to work, socialize or attend to other necessary life responsibilities. Someone with amaxophobia is typically afraid of getting hurt or killed while in a vehicle. They might repeatedly think about statistics related to traffic accidents and research dangers associated with being in a vehicle. The fear can also translate to buses.
Hodophobia is a fear of traveling. The different stages or tasks related to traveling can trigger this phobic reaction. Some people fear the actual travel to or from the destination. Other people develop a phobia related to apprehension before the travel or experience fear upon return while recalling the travel. This fear can prevent someone from traveling for many purposes, such as vacations, business trips or visiting family.
Symptoms of Vehophobia
The DSM V-TR lists symptoms of a specific phobia individualized to driving. The symptoms include:
- Feeling afraid or anxious about driving
- Anticipation or actual driving immediately creates fear or anxiety
- Avoidance of driving
- The fear or anxiety is greater than the actual danger or risks presented by driving
- These symptoms have lasted for more than six months
- These symptoms lead to distress or impaired functioning
When someone has vehophobia, the fear of driving or the actual avoidance of driving leads to barriers in going to work or school. The person may not be able to engage with friends or family because they will not drive to go to social events or interactions. Quite often, they cannot fulfill driving responsibilities, such as attending appointments, running errands or transporting family members to necessary locations.
The fearful thoughts that someone with vehophobia experiences can be crippling. As with other anxiety disorders, they fear what they cannot control and often imagine the worst and most terrifying outcome of driving. People with vehophobia feel scared about:
- Having a car accident
- Driving in bad weather
- Road rage
- Getting lost
- Having a panic attack while driving
- Being trapped in the car
- Feeling stuck in traffic and not able to get out of it
- Losing control of the car
- Not trusting their driving ability
What Can Cause Vehophobia?
Phobias can develop for different reasons. Sometimes, there might not be a clear answer to how the phobia developed. Some common causes for phobias like vehophobia include:
- Witnessing or being involved in a car accident
- Involvement in a car accident that resulted in a severe injury or death
- Observing someone else (such as a parent) who has fear or anxiety about driving
- Driving past a serious or deadly car accident on the road
- Losing a loved one to a car accident
- Media exposure of serious or fatal car accidents
Overcoming Your Fear of Driving?
The fear of driving can wreak havoc on your life. You can learn to overcome this fear, have less anxiety about driving and drive yourself comfortably where you need to go. It takes time and effort to connect with an experienced mental health professional, and it helps to have a support network to encourage you.
Research shows that cognitive behavior therapy (CBT) successfully treats vehophobia. While working with a therapist using CBT, you can learn to restructure the thoughts leading to fearful and anxious feelings. With help from the therapist, you can learn more adaptive coping skills to decrease fear and anxiety and drive with more comfort and confidence.
In exposure therapy, you will work with the therapist to confront and challenge your fear of driving. You will develop a program with your therapist to safely expose yourself to driving. Some therapists use a virtual reality exposure therapy program to treat vehophobia.
Some people with vehophobia use hypnotherapy to treat the phobic reaction to driving. During hypnosis, you work with a certified hypnotherapist who guides your mind into a deep state of relaxation and openness. During this time, you can become more open to suggestions for overcoming this phobia.
Support groups provide you with the connection and support of other people who face the same challenges and fears. While attending a support group, you can learn coping skills that have helped other people in the group, receive support and understanding from others who have gone through similar experiences and lend your support to others. Support groups can take place in person or through an online community.
Some online support groups that address phobias, in general, or vehophobia are:
- Health Unlocked: an online forum hosted by the Anxiety and Depression Association of America
- The Mighty: an online community with groups, articles and blogs on many topics, including driving phobia
- Support Groups: an online support group community with many different topics
- Daily Strength: an online support group community to discuss anxiety and phobias
To find a local support group that addresses anxiety or phobias, consider conducting an internet search for a group in your community.
Some people with vehophobia use medications to help treat their anxiety and irrational fears. Doctors might prescribe different medications based on the individual’s personal health issues, symptoms and history. The common types of medications used to treat a phobia are:
- Benzodiazepines (ex: Xanax, Valium)
- SSRI or SSNI antidepressants (ex: Prozac, Paxil)
- Beta-blockers (ex: Inderal)
Once you realize that you have vehophobia, learning more about the disorder can help you overcome it. As you gain more understanding about phobias and vehophobia, you can interpret how it manifests for you. You can improve your awareness and understanding of your thoughts, feelings and behaviors related to driving and begin to change them.
A defensive driving course can help improve your comfort and confidence while driving. A defensive driving course can teach you about driving skills and safety, which can translate to a more calm and comfortable driving experience.
If you or someone you know faces anxiety, phobias or vehophobia, the Nobu app can help address the symptoms. You can access free mental health support, including learning coping skills, journaling prompts and goal setting. You can also connect to a mental health professional and begin online therapy sessions. The app is available for download on the Apple Store and the Google Play store.
Take Control Of Your Mental Health
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Anxiety and Depression Association of America. “Overcoming the Fear of Driving.” January 29, 2021. Accessed October 6, 2022.
Cleveland Clinic. “Amaxophobia (Fear of Driving).” March 23, 2022. Accessed October 6, 2022.
Cleveland Clinic. “Hypnosis.” April 1, 2022. Accessed October 6, 2022.
Daily Strength. “Anxiety Support Group.” Accessed October 6, 2022.
Fennell, D. “Towards a Model of Travel Fear.” Annals of Tourism Research, July 10, 2017. Accessed October 6, 2022.
Fischer, C. et al. “Cognitive Behavior Therapy for Driving Fear: A Pilot Randomized Controlled Trial.” Transportation Research Part F: Traffic Psychology and Behaviour, November 2021. Accessed October 6, 2022.
The Mighty. “Mental Health.” Accessed October 6, 2022.
National Institute of Mental Health. “Mental Health Medications.” June 2022. Accessed October 6, 2022.
Wald, J. and Taylor, S. “Efficacy of Virtual Reality Exposure Therapy to Treat Driving Phobia: A Case Report.” Journal of Behavior Therapy and Experimental Psychiatry, September 2000.