Sweaty palms, shaky muscles, short, tight breaths - and that's just before you've left the driveway. Sound familiar? If you suffer with driving anxiety, you're not alone - lots of UK drivers are in the same position.
In a recent survey, 23% of drivers said they felt anxious about using motorways and 39% of drivers felt scared or uncertain behind the wheel in general.*
Drivers can lose their confidence for a number of reasons. Accidents, near-misses, embarrassing parking mishaps, or just being out of practice, are some of the more common causes behind driving phobias.
One of the best things you can do is to keep driving regularly - if you always let your partner or a friend drive, then you'll find it more difficult if you need to drive at some point.
If you're ready to give your driving nerves the old heave-ho, here's how to stay cool, calm and collected when you're on the road.
Top tips for nervous drivers
- If you're heading somewhere unfamiliar, plan your route, and make sure you have the correct address saved in your SatNav.
- Try to avoid driving at busy times. Rush hour traffic is stressful to drive through, and may delay you.
- Choose a route that places fewer demands on you, and wherever possible, take roads you're familiar with.
- Check the weather. If it looks like you'll be driving in conditions which might make you feel uncomfortable, think about postponing, rescheduling or delaying your trip.
- When you first get in the car, turn off your phone and put it in the glove box to reduce distractions.
- Give yourself plenty of time to reach your destination and allow time for breaks.
- If you feel anxious, find a safe area to pull over and take a breather. You can also use this time to safely call people at your destination and let them know you may arrive a little later than planned.
- Try not to let any external worries or problems affect your concentration.
- Resist the urge to bolt from the car, even if the drive was challenging; sit calmly and focus on your breathing for a few minutes.
- You may feel distracted or excited that the journey's over, but take a bit of time to make sure your parking brake's on, your headlights are off, the windows are shut, and that you lock the car properly when you leave it.
How to spot a nervous driver
According to Anxiety UK, there are varying degrees of driving phobias. Some people can't drive on motorways, but are able to cope on A and B roads. Other people fear roundabouts, parallel parking, or being caught in traffic and not being able to 'escape'.
It's often the idea of facing an issue like this that fuels driving anxiety.
An anxious driver may display the following behaviours:
- Being unwilling to drive alone or insisting on driving with a passenger.
- Panicking when they're stuck in traffic, due to claustrophobia-like worries.
- Avoiding unfamiliar routes.
- Avoiding certain 'triggers', such as roundabouts and motorways.
- Driving at certain times.
How to help an anxious driver
- Offer to help out - for example, if the driver is struggling with directions.
- Be patient and calm if the driver needs extra time to make manoeuvres or turns.
- Avoid pressuring them to do something they're not comfortable with, such as take a faster route, or increase their speed.
- Don't criticise them if they make a mistake.
Driving and anxiety
In the case of anxiety and depression, as long as your doctor can confirm that there are no concentration problems, agitation, behavioural disturbance or suicidal thoughts, the DVLA do not need to be told.
If your doctor thinks you could have severe driving anxiety, you must tell the DVLA about your condition. If you continue to drive against medical advice and you don't report your condition to the DVLA yourself, your doctor can do it without your permission.
There are some medical conditions affecting driving that you can report online to the DVLA, but anxiety is one of those where you have to fill in and return a form. You can download the form from the Government website.
Car insurance and anxiety
The DVLA can't contact your car insurance provider on your behalf. It's your responsibility to let your insurer know about your anxiety if you're advised to by a doctor.
If you're applying for a new policy, or renewing one, take reasonable care to answer all of the questions honestly and to the best of your knowledge. Your policy may be cancelled, or a claim may be rejected or not fully paid, if you don't.
If you already have car insurance and develop a condition such as anxiety that may affect your driving, you should still inform your insurer.
Does declaring anxiety affect the cost of car insurance?
Your insurance company can't charge a higher premium or increase excess without evidence that you're an increased risk; there's no general policy to charge more for people with anxiety as this would be unlawful discrimination.