Venophobia, or a fear of driving, is a specific phobia that leads to panic, avoidance, and an extreme discomfort of driving. Whether it comes naturally or after an accident, the fear of driving can significantly disrupt a person’s life, so identifying the condition and seeking professional mental health treatment, like psychotherapy, will be essential to limit the impact.
What Is Vehophobia?
Vehophobia is one type of specific phobia related to an intense and excessive fear of driving. When a person has this condition they will take irrational action to avoid getting behind the wheel, and in situations where they are forced to drive, they will experience extreme anxiety and fear throughout the process.1,2
Conditions like driving anxiety can severely affect a person’s life as it may limit their ability to function well with daily, expected tasks. Someone with vehophobia may struggle to:3
- Drive to work or school
- Maintain social connections with friends and family members
- Complete routine chores like going grocery shopping
- Attend medical or mental health appointments
How Common Is Vehophobia?
Specific phobias like vehophobia are common concerns in the U.S. Each year, as many as 9% of the population will have issues with one or more specific phobias, including fear of driving.1 Traffic accidents tend to be scary and impactful situations that result in serious consequences.
As many as 30% of people will note some psychological reactions following a car accident, including:2
Vehophobia Vs. Amaxophobia Vs. Ochophobia
At times, specific phobias can have multiple names that may be used interchangeably or to signify a slight difference in symptoms.
Similar phobias are:
- Amaxophobia: Sometimes used to express a fear of riding in the car, rather than driving the car
- Ochophobia: The name for a fear of vehicles
Signs That You May Have Vehophobia
The signs of vehophobia may be very subtle at first and escalate over time. Some clues that you may have vehophobia include:
- Making excuses to stay home
- Asking your friends and family members to drive
- Avoiding even getting in a car and having others run errands for you
- Intentionally not getting your car repaired to avoid driving
- Moving to areas where driving is not necessary
Symptoms of Driving Phobia
As a specific phobia, vehophobia will trigger symptoms that match other specific phobias while being connected to driving a car. The symptoms can range from fairly mild to notably debilitating for some people.
Symptoms of vehophobia, amaxophobia, or other car-related anxiety conditions include:1
- Intense fear, anxiety, and worry linked to driving a car
- Feeling the anxiety each and every time the person drives or thinks about driving
- Actively working to avoid driving
- Experiencing high anxiety that can escalate if driving
With many other anxiety disorders, the person with vehophobia will report intrusive thoughts that are very negative and fearful, and may worry about:5
- Being in a terrible accident
- Hurting themselves or others
- Being trapped in a burning car
- Drowning in the car
- Getting lost
- Being stranded if the car breaks down
Vehophobia & Panic Attacks While Driving
The person with vehophobia may endure panic attacks while driving, or when faced with the idea of driving.
The signs and symptoms of a panic attack include:1
- Pounding or rapid heartbeat
- Feeling short of breath or being smothered
- Choking feelings
- Chest pain
- Nausea and stomach distress
- Feeling dizzy, light-headed, or faint
- Feeling chills or hot flashes
- Numbness or tingling
- Feeling disconnected from the situation or one’s self
- Fear of losing control of self and emotions
- Fear of dying
Are There Different Types of Driving Phobias?
Like other phobias, driving phobias can present in endless varieties. Some different types of driving phobias include:
- Fear of highway driving: You may feel comfortable on side streets, but when the highways come and speeds increase, you panic.
- Fear of driving over bridges: Bridges are a common fear, and you could find yourself avoiding them at all costs.
- Fear of driving through tunnels: Like a fear of bridges, a fear of tunnels can lead to a lot of panic and avoidance.
- Fear of city driving: Perhaps less busy country roads are comfortable for you, while the congestion and chaos of city driving is overwhelming.
What Causes Vehophobia?
Phobias can come from a variety of sources, but most often they stem from a traumatic event that endangers the person directly. Scary situations that the person witnesses or hears about from another can also bring about symptoms of vehophobia.1
If a person was in a serious accident while driving and was injured or caused an injury to another, they could develop a fear of driving as a result. The same could happen even if they were a passenger in the car.
For other people, stories, videos, or close calls with traffic accidents could be enough to spark a long-lasting fear of driving. For example, a person could see a video posted online or hear about a loved one’s experience with a traffic accident, and this information could be enough to bring about a specific phobia.
Like with other mental health conditions, there may not always be a clear connection between a life event and vehophobia. Sometimes, these phobias seem to spring from nowhere.
Who Is More at Risk for Developing Vehophobia?
Risk factors that increase the likelihood of having a specific phobia like vehophobia include:4
- Age: Younger people have higher risk of phobias
- Family history: Having family members with phobias and anxiety disorders will increase one’s odds
Long-Term Impacts of a Fear of Driving
The impacts of a fear of driving depends on available supports, the severity of the condition, and how long it is present. In the worst situations, this fear could lead to extremely negative outcomes and risks to the person’s mental and physical health.
Consider a person with a severe phobia who lives in a rural setting with limited support from friends and family members. This person may not have access to public transportation, and it may be too far to walk to many places. Without readily available transportation, this person could struggle to function at a high level and may not be able to attend work or school. They could lose their job, their social relationships, and suffer financially.
If the situation is bad enough, they could be unable to meet their most basic needs. Accessing healthy foods and medical care may be too anxiety-provoking, so they will skip appointments and stick to highly processed foods, which increases the risks to their physical and mental health.
How Is Vehophobia Diagnosed?
A medical or mental health expert is needed to accurately diagnose vehophobia. By assessing your symptoms and comparing to the clinical criteria for specific phobias, the professional can usually gather the needed information in just one session.
Driving Phobia Treatment
The treatment options for phobias are straightforward and effective. By using cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) combined with anxiety medication, if needed, symptoms can quickly improve and create lasting change. Anyone considering treatment should consult with a team of mental health professionals for best results.4
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
Cognitive behavioral therapy is a wonderful option that works for many mental health conditions. CBT for anxiety can help someone understand and gain control over the connection between thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. Through changing thought and behavior patterns, a person can reduce their unwanted feelings.4
One specific form of CBT, called exposure therapy, focuses on improving phobias by exposing the person directly to the feared trigger. The goal is to break the connection between the driving and the anxious reaction.
In some situations, a therapist may utilize virtual reality exposure therapy to help with treatment.2 Here, the person will wear a virtual reality headset to recreate the feeling of being behind the wheel of a car from the safety of their home or office.
Finding a Therapist
To find an educated and experienced therapist, a simple place to start is an online therapist directory where you can sort by someone’s specialty and availability. You can also ask your primary care provider or a trusted loved one for a referral.
10 Tips to Get Over a Fear of Driving
Phobias are an intense challenge, but they can be overcome with a concerted effort that is coordinated with help from a mental health professional. Phobias rarely go away on their own, so people must take action to improve and eliminate symptoms.
Here are 10 practical tips for overcoming vehophobia:2,3,4
- Identify your condition: Anxiety about driving can come from multiple sources like high stress, PTSD, generalized anxiety, and other mental health conditions. Before anyone can treat a fear of driving, they must ensure that what they are experiencing is truly vehophobia.
- Educate yourself: Once the condition is identified, it is helpful to learn about the disorder, and how it affects thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. This step does not mean one has to become an expert on phobias, but a basic understanding can go a long way.
- Bring in the professionals: Specific phobias are recognized mental health disorders, which implies that they will respond best to professional treatment interventions. With increased access to online and remote therapy, even a person with vehophobia can access care.
- Understand the treatment: CBT and exposure treatments shouldn’t be complicated options, but they must be used as prescribed for best results. Stopping the treatment plan or failing to follow through with exposures could make the fear worse.
- Take Lessons With a Driving Instructor: 1-2 sentences
- Join a Support Group: 1-2 sentences
- Practice the relaxations: CBT and exposure therapy incorporate relaxation skills into the overall treatment. Anyone using relaxations must remember that these skills take time to develop, so be patient and practice often.
- Repeat the positive self-talk: Self-talk, the messages one repeats to herself, can do a lot to increase or decrease fear and anxiety. Use positive, upbeat, and confident self-talk to face the fears.
- Follow through with the exposures: Once the exposure process begins, it must be completed to see the desired results. Getting in a car and driving around the block will produce anxiety, but one has to allow enough time for the worry to reduce before stopping. Stopping prematurely will only raise the anxiety.
- Stay consistent: Exposure therapy takes time and repetition. Keep up with the plan and keep the long-term goal in sight.
What’s the Outlook for Someone With a Fear of Driving?
With proper diagnosis and a desire to fight against symptoms, the outlook for someone with the fear of driving is positive. With the correct treatment interventions delivered by competent professionals, you could be driving comfortably in a few short weeks.
Any fear can disrupt your life, but a fear of driving can severely limit your health and well-being. Don’t allow anxiety to rule your life. Instead, identify your problem and seek helpful treatments to decrease your driving stress and combat vehophobia.