There are 66 million people in the UK.
33 million Brits are able to drive.
77% of UK households have a car.
There are almost 40 million vehicles on the road.
That’s a lot of wheels.
When looking at those statistics, it’s understandable why so many people are nervous when they find themselves behind the wheel. Not only are you in control of a machine made up of approximately 30,000 parts, but you’re also on the road with millions of others, and millions of pounds worth of machinery.
Driving anxiety is a real phobia that affects roughly 6% of Europeans and 12.5% of Americans. It can range from common nerves to intense panic attacks. Sometimes it can be so bad that, even as a passenger in a car, you fear for your life.
For most people, driving is an essential part of life. We drive to go to work, to go to the shops, to visit friends and family. It is a freedom that we work hard to gain, and no one wants to put themselves through those agonising driving lessons to find themselves feeling nervous when they’re driving!
So how do you tackle driving nerves? What causes driving anxiety? Will driving get easier?
By the end of this blog, you won’t find sitting in the driver's seat so scary, you might even have the urge to go on a relaxing drive!
But before that, let’s ask ourselves:
Why Am I So Nervous About Driving?
There are many factors that can contribute to feeling shaken on the road. Maybe there’s been a traumatic experience, maybe your first driving test went horribly wrong, maybe you’re just a nervous person, or maybe it’s the scary statistics at the beginning of the blog (sorry about that). Wherever it may be, you need to understand that it is more than likely an irrational thought.
At the end of the day, you are worried something bad will happen, correct? You always hear about tragic car crashes, but you never hear about the 99.9% of car journeys that don’t end in disaster. Imagine hearing this on the news every day:
“BREAKING NEWS: Heather arrived safely at the supermarket... again.”
See? There’s a reason why no news is good news.
Figuring out why you are nervous about driving is an important first step in conquering your anxieties. Once you’ve figured it out, you can start fighting it.
How Can I Calm My Nerves Before Driving?
For some of you, the nerves are primarily present before you even leave the house. Your mind starts overthinking the journey, you feel reluctant to leave the comfort of your home. But once you’re actually on the road, the nerves pass. It’s like an exam, you’re tense beforehand, but once you’re in that seat, you find your mind goes into focus mode and every other thought is thrown out the window.
So how do you stop these irrational pre-driving nerves?
1. Plan your journey
It’s always reassuring to plan your journey. Luckily we live in the 21st century, meaning we have a live map of every road in the world in our pockets! Check which route is best to take, check the traffic, do you need to leave earlier because of an accident on the M6? Once you have a plan, you will probably be in a better state of mind because you know what to expect.
2. Do a practice run
If you’re planning on going on a journey you’ve never done before, it’s a good idea to do a practice run a day or two prior, ideally when the roads are quiet. Take a friend or family member with you to ease your nerves. Often having someone else in the car who also doesn’t know the route can put you at ease, as you know you’re not alone, it might even make the journey a bit more fun! (This tip is especially useful when you’re planning a journey to a job interview or other similar high-pressure situations.)
3. Distract your nerves
If you find yourself pacing around your home, glancing over at those patronising car keys, it’s a good idea to try and take your mind off the journey. Turn on the TV for ten minutes, listen to some music, anything that will prevent you from overthinking your drive (don’t get too comfortable, the last thing you want to do is be late). Overthinking the journey before leaving the house means you’re expecting something to go wrong - not a good state of mind to be in. So to get out of that thought process, watch some Friends, perhaps? Then, when the time comes, just go for it!
4. Give your driving a purpose
Maybe you are new to driving, and you plan to go on a short drive to practice. If that’s the case, it's always helpful to have a destination to go to and a reason to go there instead of looping back home. If you have somewhere to go, it gives driving a purpose and feels like a productive task and less of a burden.
How Can I Relax When Driving?
Now, you’ve understood why you get anxious; you’ve calmed your nerves before driving, now you’re on the road. You need to remember to stay calm. That’s probably easier said than done, so let’s run through some tips on how to relax when driving.
5. Listen to the radio, music or podcasts
Take advantage of that radio. Blast your favourite tunes, listen to a podcast, anything that puts you in a better mood and drowns out those niggling anxieties in the back of your mind. Music that positively impacts your mood also improves your driving behaviour, making you a safer drive.
6. Take a friend with you
Not working? Maybe having some company in the car will help. Like we discussed before, having someone else in the car can help simmer your nerves as it means you’re not alone. Make sure the passenger isn’t distracting you from your driving though, ensure you can trust them to calm you and be good company during the journey.
7. Talk to yourself
If no one is available to join you, just talk to yourself! This is much more common than you may think. Everyone talks to themselves when they drive! Talk about your plan for the day, run through chores you need to get done, or maybe guide yourself through what you’re doing, for example:
“Clutch down, into fourth gear, check the mirror. There’s a roundabout coming up, check the mirror, remember to indicate left.”
This is particularly helpful when you are new to driving, or on an unfamiliar road, as it helps you mentally prepare for upcoming maneuvers, it makes you more aware of your surroundings, and puts you in a more focused mindset, meaning those nerves are pushed to the side.
8. Be easy on yourself and others
Lastly, when driving, it’s important that you don’t punish yourself. If you stall, forget to indicate, or slam your brakes on a little too hard, just knowing you did something not quite right is a step in the right direction. We’re human, we make mistakes, we learn from them. If your mistake affected other drivers, simply hold your hand up to apologise and continue your journey. It's also a good idea to be kind to other drivers. If they make a mistake, don’t honk, curse or gesture. They might be just as nervous, if not more nervous than you are. And being nice to others means they are nice to you.
How Can I Gain Confidence In Driving?
Congratulations! You’ve completed your journey! Now you just need to make sure that your next journey is just as smooth! So how do you gain confidence in yourself?
9. Keep driving
First, and you’ve probably heard this a million times before, you need to practice. Practice, practice, practice. For some people, driving is just like learning how to ride a bike, the first few times are wobbly but in a few attempts, they’ve got it sussed. For others, however, it can take months, even years, to get the hang of it. But it will come. The process might be painful, but it’s worth it.
10. Reward yourself
Another way to build confidence is to reward yourself. Maybe you just drove yourself to the supermarket on the other side of town for the first time. Good for you! Now go buy yourself something as a reward! This works hand in hand with the ‘driving for a purpose’ tip. Not only does it make the journey worth it, but it even urges you to go.
As a summary, let's list everything that you can do to gain confidence when driving:
- Plan your journey
- Do a practice run
- Give driving a purpose
- Distract your nerves
- Listen to the radio, music, or podcasts
- Take a friend with you
- Talk to yourself
- Be easy on yourself and others
- Keep Driving
- Reward yourself
We understand that driving can be scary, and you are definitely not alone. We hope this blog has helped you fight your driving nerves! Let us know if we helped you get out on the road by messaging us on social media. Or, if you know someone who is a nervous driver, be sure to send them this blog! We’d love to hear from you!
Remember, you are in control of the car. The car is not in control of you.
(This blog is not here to diagnose or cure any anxieties, if you have severe anxiety when driving, it is recommended that you speak with your GP or mental health professional. You must tell the DVLA if you experience extreme anxiety on the road, you could be fined up to £1,000 if you don’t.)
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