Overcoming driving anxiety

Seasoned readers of this blog will know that we spend a lot of time giving you insider tips on staying calm when you drive. Well, as it’s the holiday season and you may be planning a long drive (the thought of which is freaking you out slightly!), to your favourite beach, we’ve pulled together some of our own most effective strategies.

Get back to basics

If you’re not at all confident about your driving, it may help if you go back to the basics and relearn some of the skills you needed to pass your test.

  • Find a quiet place to practise manoeuvres that might cause you stress, such as turning your car around in tight streets or parallel parking.
  • Find an approved driving instructor (ADI) and ask for some additional training to top up your driving skills.

The prep work

When you’re feeling confident enough to take a trip in your car, there’re a few things to consider in preparation. Make sure your car’s a safe and comfortable place to be by asking yourself: 

  • Is the floor clear of rubbish? Stuff can get stuck behind the pedals and under your feet, making it impossible to use the pedals properly.
  • Are your seat and seat belt secure and comfortable?
  • Are the tyres pumped to the correct pressure?

Keep distracting noises, like rattling drink cans or rustling crisp packets, to a minimum. Avoiding distractions will allow your mind to stay focused on your driving.

Give your route and the time you’ll be travelling some thought as well during this prep time. In particular:

  • Choose a route that places fewer demands on you. Wherever possible, take roads you’re familiar with.
  • Allow plenty of time for your journey. That’ll remove the pressure to get there quickly.
  • Avoid driving at busy times. Rush-hour traffic is stressful to drive through and may delay you.
  • Avoid driving in bad weather. Check the forecast and, if it looks like there’ll be conditions you’d rather avoid, think about planning your trip for another time.

Setting off

So, you’re happy that your car is ready and you know your route. Before actually setting off on your journey, take a minute or two to settle into your car. This’ll give you time to calmly check that you have all you need and that any passengers are safely strapped in.

It may also help to visualise your safe arrival at your destination. Tell yourself that you can do this – after all, you’ve probably done it many times before.

Once you feel fully prepared, set off at your own pace.

On the road

Here are a few pointers that may reduce your stress levels while you’re actually driving.

  • Focus on your driving. If you’re distracted by worries or concerns, you should find a safe place to stop and only carry on driving when you’re ready to.
  • Try not to let your worries or concerns about driving affect your concentration.
  • Avoid being distracted by your mobile phone. Switch it off before you start driving.
  • Reduce your mental workload by reducing your speed. The faster you drive, the more information you need to process.

Calming down

Despite our best efforts, sometimes stress ends up getting the better of us. If that happens, try some of these techniques to calm yourself.

  • If possible, take a moment away from the road by stopping in a safe place.
  • Breathe deeply and take long breaths in and out. Breathe from your stomach, rather than from your chest.
  • Go for a short walk or get a bite to eat.
  • If time and space permit, find an empty car park or street to drive around and regain your confidence with some simple driving manoeuvres.

You might also want to read a previous post we’ve published here – Don’t Panic! It was aimed at driving-test candidates, but there’s advice on calming yourself down that can be useful to anyone.

General

There are courses available that help to increase your confidence on the road, such as

If your anxiety is severely affecting your memory/concentration, or you’re experiencing agitation or behaviour disturbances, you must tell DVLA. For more information, see here.

If you’d like to read more about driver behaviour, have a look at The Official DVSA Guide to Better Driving, which includes loads of advice on how to manage your stress and moods while driving.