Whatever your reason for fearing being behind the wheel, it’s a debilitating feeling when you just “know” something terrible is going to happen to you. You may believe you will cause a wreck, you’ll have a panic attack, you’ll get lost, or you’ll just plain forget how to drive a car. Regardless of what stems behind your driving fear (if anything) here are a few tips to help you feel more comfortable behind the wheel.
I know firsthand the complete terror of driving. I used to love being behind the wheel and would be the first one to volunteer chauffeuring services for my friends and family, and road trips would thrill me. Then I got into my first car wreck while driving home from Wal-Mart 6 years ago, and my freedom behind the wheel turned into white-knuckle fear. I didn’t cause the wreck, and for me it somehow makes my fear worse, because I am now convinced I cannot trust any other driver on the road. Since I was hit on the left side of the vehicle by someone pulling into traffic, I flinch at every vehicle that is entering the road, completely convinced they are headed straight toward me.
Yet I still drive. Yes, it’s difficult and some days are better than others, but I still drive. Here’s how I work driving into my life without having a full-blown freak out. It works for me, and it may work for you.
Some days I just sit in my car. I don’t even start it, but I get behind the wheel and allow myself to tolerate the whizzing of vehicles driving down the road next to me (I live on a busy highway). This allows me to just plain relax, play with my mirrors, adjust my seat etc. I even put on my seat belt and play with the wheel. Getting comfortable with your car helps you to feel comforted BY it. I know every inch of my vehicle.
Drive around the block, just down the street, or to the store, turn around, and go home. Don’t have a time limit or a true destination in mind. Just get in the car and drive anywhere. I turn on the radio so I can sing myself into being calm, but for some people a silent car is better. I drive with my dog on bad days as having her in the back is a comfort so I don’t feel so “alone” in the car. Some days just driving to the end of my street and back is an accomplishment.
Create a pattern and stick to it. I drive to the same stores the same way all the time. Same for work. Having familiarity so I know when to anticipate stop signs/lights, where the gas stations are etc is extremely comforting.
If you’re afraid of vehicles driving next to you or in-town driving, the best day to toodle around town is on Sunday. Most people are in church and not shopping so the roads are the least trafficked then. Take a travel buddy with you (an adult, licensed driver) who can help you drive through intersections and keep you calm, and who can take over the wheel when you are overwhelmed.
Try the freeway. Oddly enough, as much as I hate to drive I am in love with freeway driving. Semis don’t bother me and I love the long stretches of road without stop lights and traffic jams. Find an open highway or freeway for driving practice. I always gain confidence when on the freeway because I feel like I have the road to myself.
Realize that you are a cautious driver, and if you get into an accident, there is little you could have done to prevent it. I used to go over and over my wreck to see what I could have done different, and the answer is it just plain happened. I know it wasn’t my fault, and that’s it. Realizing that no matter what you do you may or may not get into a wreck simply because you’re on the road is oddly soothing, since I know I don’t have to control anything other than my own car. Also, the more you drive, the more you realize other cars are not out to “get” you. How many wrecks have you been in, either as a passenger or driver, and how often do you drive or ride in a car? Putting perspective into the reality of actually wrecking is a great way to rationalize your fears. If you are a passenger or driver every single day and you’ve yet to wreck, it sounds kinda silly that every day you COULD wreck.
Driving is a terrible fear if you have one. But you can conquer it or at least get some of your freedom back. I’ve learned to modify my driving over the years to accommodate my comfort. I still can’t parallel park or drive in a suicide lane, and I’ve never turned left at an intersection without a traffic light to guide me. Realizing you can drive even if you have to change it up a little is just fine. The point is to become less fearful behind the wheel, however you do it. Even if all you can do is sit behind the wheel with the engine off, hey, it’s a start and congratulations!
Easy does it.