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Do you feel anxious before every driving lesson? Or have you passed your test but are too afraid at the thought of driving on your own? You’re not alone. People are often discriminate and insensitive about a fear of driving, and the phrase “Just get over it” is used all too often.
What many fail to understand is, whether it may be the fear of being in control of a vehicle or dreading taking passengers, learning to drive is a massive step. It’s automatically assumed that once you’ve ‘learned’ to drive and passed your test, everything should be plain sailing from that point onwards. On the contrary, the real learning begins when you’re removed from the safety of an instructor’s car and have to be entirely independent: a petrifying thought for many.
Whilst tons of people relish their newfound freedom that driving your own car often brings, others are secretly quaking in their boots about the thought of a car without dual controls. I’ve been there. From passing my test last December, to buying my car and driving for the first time in 7 months in July, driving was a constant worry for me. I’ve gone from being so afraid that I would avoid driving even to a neighbouring town, to tackling the motorway on my own and driving to uni. Taken entirely from my own personal experience, I’ve come up with five ways to help combat a fear of driving, with the goal that someday, you’ll be able to get in a car without any worries, and drive off into the sunset (figuratively, of course).
1. An Encouraging Companion
If it’s the thought of controlling a car completely on your own, have someone come with you on your first few journeys, so you can not only get used to not having your instructor telling you exactly what to do, but also to give you time to settle into a new car. For obvious reasons, bring someone who isn’t likely to distract you, mess around, or destroy your confidence by negatively commenting on your driving. Your trip buddy should be someone who praises and encourages you, not tear you down.
2. A Trusty Sat Nav
A large part of the realm of independent driving is having to know where you’re actually going, as opposed to constantly being fed directions by an instructor. In the beginning, you don’t want to be panicking about studying every street name and roundabout turning, alongside getting used to new controls and vehicle size. I really do recommend starting out with a sat nav, as you don’t have to worry yourself with memorising directions, or risking looking at a map whilst driving which is ridiculously dangerous. The best aspect of a sat nav, in my opinion, is that even if you accidentally take a wrong turning, it will recalculate your route and therefore remove the need to perform a potentially precarious turn in the road.
3. Build It Up
Despite what your friends might be telling you, you don’t have to venture onto the motorway the day after passing your test. It’s much better to work on your skills and confidence on roads already familiar to you, rather than rushing out then having an utter panic on a hazardous road. I suggest going out regularly on short journeys, then branching out when you feel ready. That way, when you eventually do tackle your first motorway, you’ll have so much experience to draw on, and you can feel confident in your ability to control the car.
Don’t expect every journey to go off without a hitch. They won’t. Stalling and making mistakes might feel positively humiliating at the time, but that’s the stuff you learn from. Don’t take it to heart if you hear a beeping horn from behind, or the occasional “what on Earth are you even doing?!” glare, just concentrate on what you’re doing, becoming flustered isn’t going to help anyone. Experienced drivers often lose sympathy for new drivers, apparently forgetting that they had to learn once as well, but don’t let it affect you; a friendly smile or apologetic hand will let them know that you’re doing the best you can.
5. Embrace the Fear
The worst way to deal with a fear of driving is to avoid it entirely. As Susan Jeffers states in Feel the Fear and Do it Anyway,
‘Pushing through fear is less frightening than living with the underlying fear that comes from a feeling of helplessness’.
It’s so true. Avoiding the situation only causes the fear to build on itself, and the longer you go without driving, the more likely you are to forget things which would have made it easier for you. Don’t hold back, just go out and do it, and I promise you’ll feel a million times better than you would if you simply back down and allow the fear to consume you.
Driving is such a huge step, and after mastering it, you will reap the benefits of freedom, independence, and, most importantly, increased confidence. You might take a little longer to get there than some, but, you will reach the point where you no longer have to mentally prepare and psych yourself up for journeys, and even start to enjoy driving. That last thought may seem impossible at the moment, but keep pushing and you’ll get there.