Driving phobia: Common cause of road accidents

March 13, 2019

The fear of driving (vehophobia) is a significant problem that can affect everyday life. There are various fears related to driving - as experienced by those in Oman - that may cause panic and possibly lead the driver to suffer an anxiety attack. However, all of these fears can be avoided, according to experts.

Eng Ali al Barwani, road safety expert and member of Oman Road Safety Association, said thinking of past driving calamities can result in gruesome bad experience.

“The most common cause of driving phobia is the memories of past car accidents. It can be horrific especially among ladies. When some drivers had met with or seen an accident, they tend to develop driving phobia and some never drive again. Also, driving in different conditions puts fear into the mind. The repetitive thoughts and fears of many scenarios may then cause the person to avoid driving but this makes the anxiety worse,” he said.

Eng Barwani said the fear of losing control and lack of confidence may also lead to driving phobia. “If drivers start expecting what should not be expected, it makes the mind active in imagining the worst which is not healthy for driving. Drivers should try not to be victims of previous car accidents by imagining being in one. The imagination may end up in real accidents,” he said.

He added that being nervous can make life harder for drivers.

“Because of nervousness inexperienced drivers might make a mistake while driving; it can also cause fear of driving on highways or narrow roads or in bad weather conditions like rains. Fearful drivers should normally trust their own ability and they should not imagine the worst repeatedly,” he said.

To avoid driving phobia, Eng Barwani said, “Drivers need to understand their vehicles before getting behind the wheels. There is also a need to improve the way driving instructors teach new drivers. They need to learn more about defensive driving and this will improve their confidence. Keeping distance between cars is also something that can reduce stress that may lead to driving phobia. In some scenarios, driver fitness and fatigue may be factors too.”

A good number of people in Oman may be having driving licences but they are never comfortable driving. “I got my driver’s licence ten years ago but I am never comfortable driving. When I drive, I am always in fear of someone crashing into me. And most of the times, I think of accidents that occur on daily basis in Oman and then I begin to panic. However much I have tried to drive, I just can’t drive long distances,” said Fathia Khalaf, a mother of three.

Dr Yousuf Mirza, a psychiatrist based in Muscat and Lahore, who has been practising in Oman for a long time, said that fear of driving affects all aspects of one’s life, from personal to professional.

“Lack of confidence, new road layout, stress while driving, accidents witnessed and past accidents lead to driving phobia. In the modern world, driving is a necessity at work as well as for personal needs. When a driver’s fear pattern is triggered, it causes anxiety, and panic,” he said.

“Thoughts revolving around negativities on the roads, anxiety, a rapid heart beat, being tense, feeling a throbbing headache, and panic while driving may be the common symptoms of driving phobia.”

He added that the problem can be dealt with by self-control of the mind. Graded exposure and behaviour therapy or hypnotherapy by experienced therapists is another effective treatment.

“Medication for such type of phobia is best avoided as medicines may reduce alertness, cause drowsiness or slow the reflexes. Drivers should try to deal with this problem by reassuring themselves and their mind in a positive way. Drivers should not avoid driving due to fear and need to build up their confidence by continuing to drive. They can start by driving short distances and gradually increase the distance driven.”

Playing games with vehicle simulations or car computer games can also help the driver in becoming more confident and overcome such phobias, Dr Mirza added.