What is the fear of driving?
Have you ever felt fear, trembling all over your body and the feeling that you were losing control of your vehicle when driving on the motorway? Yes ? Then perhaps you suffer from amaxophobia. This fear of driving or being in the passenger seat is much more common than you might think. This phobia differs in intensity from one person to another and can have more or less harmful consequences on your daily life.
How serious is the fear of driving?
Conduct phobia belongs to the family of specific phobias, which are generally distinguished from social phobias or agoraphobia. This type of phobia concerns objects or situations that generate excessive, persistent and constraining anxiety responses in the individual’s functioning. The problem is that they are often neglected by those around them and sometimes even ridiculed. However, the frequency of confrontation with the feared situation can lead to great psychological distress and a considerable deterioration in the quality of life.
This is particularly the case for amaxophobia, which not only results in an intense fear of driving, but also progressively extends to all situations involving driving, even as a passenger, which then become very problematic (such as going shopping, going on holiday, taking the bus). The anxious anticipation, which can be understood as the “fear of being afraid“, induces a considerable mental burden which forces the individual to organise his journeys and therefore often his life around this disorder.
Amaxophobia cannot be cured without treatment or follow-up, otherwise it becomes a sometimes insurmountable obstacle in daily life, at work and even in relationships with people around him.
Who is affected by the fear of driving?
Fear of driving (or amaxophobia) affects both men and women
Yes, it is! Contrary to popular belief, it is a phobia that affects more and more people, regardless of gender or age. In terms of figures, we know that more than 50% of people who have had a road accident have subsequently developed amaxophobia. Since not all people with a fear of driving have been involved in an accident beforehand, it is estimated that about 5% of the population lives with a more or less pronounced driving phobia. In general, without an accident, the onset of this anxiety occurs between the ages of 30 and 40.
The origin of the fear of driving
The causes of the phobia can be very different from one person to another. Amaxophobia can be linked to a traumatic experience in the car. Being involved in an accident, being assaulted at the wheel or seeing others in such situations can lead to real post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), which makes it impossible to drive again because of the associated traumatic memory. However, less extreme anxiety-provoking situations can also lead to the development of more or less severe amaxophobia. Simply experiencing symptoms of a panic attack while driving is a common occurrence that can lead to a great deal of fear of getting back into a vehicle.
Fear of driving can also occur if you have an anxious temperament, as anxious people in general have a tendency to systematically consider the worst in situations. They may therefore feel more quickly overwhelmed by their catastrophic thoughts when they are in the car. Fear of speed can also play a role in associating the car with distressing sensations in the mind of the person concerned, which feeds the phobia.
For example, if you say to yourself, “I’m afraid I won’t be able to avoid an accident if I have to drive. Or, “If I get a flat tire, I won’t be able to manage and change it myself. From then on, you will do everything in your power to avoid travelling by car.
Intense fear reactions differ from one individual to another
They can occur when you are stuck in traffic, driving through a tunnel or on a motorway… These situations are so frightening that they make your hands very clammy, your limbs tremble and you sweat a lot. Your reflexes are not affected, however, and you usually find a way to stop at the side of the road to calm your emotions. The recurrence of this situation, sometimes unavoidable in some cases, can have an impact on your psychological state and cause irritability, anger, insomnia or headaches.
In the long run, this phobia can therefore have increasingly invasive consequences on your daily life. It can prevent you from going shopping, visiting your friends or even finding a job, especially those that require a lot of travel. Among the people who are victims of a road accident and who are very prone to amaxophobia, 10% suffer from depressive disorders linked, among other things, to post-traumatic stress but also to the reorganisation of their lives caused by avoidance behaviour.
Finally, in amaxophobia, there is often a lack of self-confidence. This is understandable since you have to take the controls of a vehicle which could be very dangerous for others as well as for yourself, but this necessarily implies trusting other drivers… There is therefore an overestimation of the risk because the amaxophobic person tends to perceive his or her capacities and those of others to control their respective vehicles as systematically insufficient. We speak then of cognitive distortion to designate the effects of the perception of the reality of people. This would be the filter through which the world is interpreted and therefore gives rise to thoughts that can increase uncomfortable feelings of vulnerability.
Driving situations that cause anxiety
On the road, people with amaxophobia are particularly panicky about having an accident. It is a fixed idea from the moment they get into a car – and even before – until they get out. However, there are other situations that are the subject of significant anxiety. These include the idea of losing control of the car and being in control of a powerful vehicle. Specific driving situations such as the likelihood of driving at night, in unfamiliar areas, on bridges, in tunnels, on steep roads or open roads, regularly come up as major anxiety factors. In the case of changing lanes and overtaking, it is again the distortions in driving skills such as reaction time and errors in judgement that are perceived to be deficient that are the cause of the more or less strong negative emotional reaction.