Can’t drive, won’t drive

Cars and vans have become essential to modern life, forming a vital cog in the economy and giving us the freedom to travel.   

In the 1950s, there were four million licensed vehicles on the road – a number that exploded with the introduction of motorways later that same decade. 

Today, there are an estimated 33.6 million drivers in the UK, with 16.7 million people either driving themselves to work or catching a lift, according to the latest National Travel Survey.

Indeed, the ability to drive, a clean license and access to a car can be make or break when it comes to job-hunting. 

The government’s Find a Job database found that of the 182,062 vacancies on offer in September 2018, one in five (19 per cent) stated that having a car or licence was a prerequisite.

The professions that require the ability to drive are as diverse as the applicants applying. From carer, cleaner and chef to sales consultant, security guard and safety engineer, non-drivers need not apply.

Driving has become synonymous with the transition to adulthood and has become ingrained in our culture, with MPGs, emissions, the latest models and electrification always hot topics of conversations. 

So much of our daily lives are reliant on driving – from commuting and business trips to simply getting from A to B.  But what happens if just the thought of getting behind the wheel makes you break out in a cold sweat? 

A road to nowhere

Vehophobia, the fear of driving, is one of the 10 most common phobias, according to Anxiety UK.

So, what drives a person to put themselves through the pain and price of public transport?

For some people it’s clear why they don’t ever want to get behind a wheel. A traumatic car accident or having experienced a particularly dangerous journey is most often the trigger. A scary encounter with road rage or witnessing a bad accident can cause the brain to develop panic or anxiety responses each time a person gets behind the wheel forcing them to abandon ship. Or car. Seeing anxious parents panic while driving can also lead a child to have vehophobia in later life.

For others it’s more complex, forcing them to hide behind the myth that they are going greener or getting fitter.

A life event, such as pregnancy, can release unfathomable emotions leading women to subconsciously let their partners become their unpaid chauffeur while they embrace the desire to protect their unborn child. At the other end of the life-scale, grief can also lead to a fear of driving – instilled by a fear of one’s own mortality.

The physical symptoms of vehophobia include shaking, trembling, a dry mouth, rapid heart rate, shallow breathing, chest pains, nausea and sweaty hands. This type of reaction can occur each time the individual tries to get behind the wheel. Or worse still, mid journey, causing them to freeze and unable to change gears or apply the brakes.

Drive away your car phobia

Whatever the trigger or symptom, vehophobia can be debilitating. But there is hope.

Experts and sufferers have found some tricks and tips can help with managing the phobia and its symptoms.

They recommend sufferers try the following five simple measures, which may help on the road to recovery:

  1. Slowly does it. As a starting point, try sitting in the car while it’s stationary. Slowly build up to driving around the block or up and down a familiar road and then drive a little further each day to build confidence.
  2. Minimise stress. Avoid driving in rush hour and always use a satnav during unfamiliar journeys.
  3. Calming music. Music has a unique link to our emotions and wellbeing so try listening to classical music to keep your nerves at bay.
  4. A reassuring passenger. Driving with someone who has a naturally calm and composed demeanour telling you that you are doing well can be a great help.
  5. Seek professional help. Beta-blockers and sedatives or alternative therapies including Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), prolonged exposure therapy (PE) or hypnosis have been known to be prescribed to sufferers. 

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