Does the fear of driving keep you from getting on the road often? Or do you jump through hoops (figuratively speaking, of course) to avoid certain things on the road, like driving next to a semi-truck? Does visiting a city like Pittsburgh or New York make you anxious because you hate driving over bridges? If that’s the case, know that you’re not alone.
In a recent survey, we polled over 1,500 Americans asking them how comfortable they felt behind the wheel and found that 44 percent of drivers said they had at least one driving phobia — that’s a lot of nervous people behind the wheel.
To break down our survey data even more, we looked at how some of the most common driving fears stack up, how these phobias differ based on age and gender, and some expert advice on how to conquer your fears on the road.
Overall, and perhaps unsurprisingly, more men than women claim to not have any fears while driving. But statistically speaking, are men the safer drivers? Read on to find out.
How Driving Phobias Stack Up?
Before we dive into some of the most common driving fears and how they stack up by gender, it’s important to understand how they’re defined. A driving phobia — also known as a vehophobia — develops when the fear of getting behind the wheel becomes overwhelming, often to the point of avoidance.
Once debilitating anxiety sets in, a person behind the wheel, or even before getting in the car, might experience sweaty palms, dizziness, shortness of breath, tachycardia and trembling, among other symptoms.
Although there are no particular names for other driving-related fears — including fear of driving near semi-trucks, over bridges, in the snow or at night — these fears can contribute to a person’s overall driving phobia. Below we break down what Americans fear most while driving.
The top fear, regardless of gender, was driving through bad weather, with 21 percent of respondents claiming it as their main phobia. This is understandable, especially given that nearly 21 percent of car crashes each year are weather-related — meaning they occur in adverse weather conditions like heavy snow, rain, high winds and fog. Driving near large trucks came in second, followed by driving at night and over bridges or through tunnels.
While a large percentage of people admit to driving phobias, not everyone experiences fear on the road. In fact, 11 percent of drivers stated they didn’t have any driving phobias at all.
Out of all of the respondents who claimed to have no fear while driving, 63 percent of those were men. But although less fearful, are men truly the better drivers? Below we take a deeper look at driving phobias and habits by gender.
Battle of the Sexes: Who’s the Scaredy Cat?
Even when the majority of respondents who claimed to have no fear behind the wheel were men, it seems like men and women share the same fears almost equally.
In the graphic below, you’ll see that aside from bad weather and maybe driving near large trucks, men and women stacked up pretty evenly throughout the rest of the phobias listed in the survey. In fact, the same amount of men and women are terrified of driving through tunnels — who knew?
Below we break down these fears even further and stack them against road safety data and fatality rates from the U.S. Department of Transportation to get a better picture of whether or not this fear is justified.
Since fear is your mind’s way of telling you to tread lightly and be more alert in certain situations, for this particular survey, we were interested in who experienced more fear while driving based on gender. We also wanted to find out if there were any patterns or correlations with the number of crash involvements by gender.
Again, not surprisingly, more men claim to feel no fear while driving, but are they truly safer drivers?
Well, when you compare the number of passenger car crash fatalities men and women are involved in, the answer is — not really. Although less women are on the road than men, men still significantly surpass women in car-related fatalities.
The second highest percentage of men claiming to feel no fear behind the wheel were men ages 25 to 34 at 17 percent. Interestingly, this is also the group with the highest number of fatalities.
As you can see from the table above, as men get older, the percentage of those who claim to have no fear while driving sometimes nearly doubles compared to women in their age group. Although the number of fatalities decreases as both men and women get older, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation, men still account for more car-related deaths than women.
Men are also more likely to engage in dangerous driving practices including driving under the influence, speeding and not wearing a seatbelt.
In 2018, men accounted for 71 percent of driver deaths in passenger vehicles. So although they experience less fear while driving, they might benefit from practicing more caution on the road.
Generational Battle: Who’s the Safer Driver?
According to the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, teens and those in their early 20s still cause the most crashes per year. In their defense, only 6 percent of Americans ages 18 to 24 claim to not be scared of anything while driving, compared to 14.4 percent of respondents ages 65+ who claim to be fearless.
These differences become even greater when we split by gender and age. For example, 19 percent of men aged 65+ claim to be completely fearless on the road compared to 6 percent of males in their teens and early 20s.
However, fatalities actually remain constant between teenagers and seniors. Even though seniors have more years of driving experience under their seatbelts, the increased health concerns in this age bracket could be attributed to the increased number of fatalities.
How to Conquer Your Driving Fears According to Experts
If you do suffer from a driving phobia or even just get a little anxious when driving next to a large truck or cyclist, we collected some expert advice to help you get over your fears.
1. Adopt Visualization Techniques
When we feel fear or anxiety, it’s hard to remember that our minds are very strong and, with practice, can be capable of resetting the way we feel about certain things or situations. Meredith Futernick, LMHC, LPC, a counselor who helps clients overcome anxiety and self-destructive behaviors, suggests using visualization techniques to get over our fears. Imagine yourself driving to your destination safely and without anxiety or a panic attack. Keep in mind that consistency is key, so the more you visualize, the more effective any technique will be.
2. Use Humor
Laughter and humor can often help relieve some of the fear and tension we feel from anxiety-inducing situations. New York-based therapist, Sherry Amatenstein, LCSW, recommends thinking about an absolutely ridiculous scenario to help you see the lighter side of things. Some funny driving situations that can happen to anyone include driving the entire way with a piece of clothing hanging from the door or leaving the trunk of your car open.
3. Keep a Journal
Psychologist Barbara Markway, Ph.D, explains that keeping a diary is a great way to learn about ourselves and our thought processes. In your journal, describe the situation you’re in. After that, write down how you feel when getting behind the wheel, what scares you about driving, and what you’re thinking the moment you feel anxious. According to Markway, this is a great step toward realizing that some of our fears are unrealistic.
4. Repeat Reassuring Mantras
An anxiety and OCD therapist, Ken Goodman, LCSW, says the first step to conquering our fears is to identify them and write down why we want to conquer them. Once you’ve done that, create a positive mantra to help you get through your trip. This can be anything from, “I want to be able to drive my kids to school,” to “I want to take my first solo road trip.”
5. Plan Out Your Trips
Another great way to help get over your fear of driving is by planning out trips that you’re comfortable with or won’t offset your anxiety. Psychologist Ellen Hendriksen, Ph.D, suggests you plan out a couple of trips that add a bit of a challenge but are still within your comfort zone to provide your brain with a healing experience.
Perhaps begin with a short trip around your block and, as you become more comfortable, add a little distance and drive to your closest convenience store.
Although carpooling might seem like a way to avoid our problems or fears, there’s nothing wrong with taking breaks. If you can, find a driver you’re comfortable with and split your commute to and from work. Certified hypnotherapist Ted Moreno also points out that driving with someone else and engaging in conversation can be a great way to distract from anxious thoughts.
7. Practice Makes Perfect
Exposure therapy is another important step towards overcoming fear and anxiety, and one that psychotherapist Jennifer Rollin is quite familiar with. She suggests constantly striving to practice with what you fear so our brains slowly begin to associate driving with a positive experience.
8. Increase Comfort
Last but certainly not least, create a routine that helps you feel at ease. Clinical psychologist and anxiety coach David Carbonell, Ph.D., suggests adopting actions that increase your comfort behind the wheel. This can include breathing exercises, listening to music, rolling down the windows to get some fresh air or even counting as you drive.
If you know certain situations set off your anxiety like congested traffic or driving on the highway, we also recommend incorporating some productive practices or even trying car yoga during your commute to help you relax. As you can see, many people have certain fears while driving but there are many ways to lessen those fears and get you where you need to be without a hitch.
You’ll also want to keep in mind that some fear is healthy and can actually help you get through some tough situations. The key is not letting fear interfere with your day-to-day tasks or completely take over your life. Instead of seeing fear as something to avoid, learn ways to control it.
Whether you experience fear behind the wheel or love being on the road, proper safety precautions are always best kept top of mind to ensure your well-being and the safety of other drivers. If you’re headed out on a road trip, book a rental car with navigation and hands-free features to avoid any snafus while on the road.
This survey was conducted for CarRentals through Google Consumer Surveys, using a sample of no less than 1,000 respondents. The average RMSE score was 2.9%. The survey ran online during January 2020.