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How to overcome driving anxiety

If you’re reading this, it’s likely that one or more aspect of driving makes you nervous – but the good news is you’re not alone. In a recent survey by Nissan, 23% of drivers said they were anxious about using motorways, and 39% felt scared or uncertain behind the wheel in general. The lockdowns haven’t helped matters either, with a 52% rise in Google searches relating to driving nerves.

Here at IAM RoadSmart, we’re passionate about supporting drivers of all abilities to become safer and more confident behind the wheel. Below we explore some of the symptoms of nervous driving, as well as some of the top ways you can begin to overcome your fears. 

What causes driving anxiety?

There’s no individual reason why some people develop a fear of driving, and for most of us it’s a combination of apprehensions. Some of the most common triggers include:

Driving anxiety - Authority

Fear of authority

This can take many forms, but fear of authority figures such as police officers can make getting behind the wheel a challenge.

Driving anxiety - Incidents

Fear of incidents

Fear of causing, or being involved in an accident can cause some to avoid driving altogether – but it can be improved on over time!

Driving anxiety - Past experiences

Past experiences

Whether it’s a near miss or a tricky roundabout, past experiences can stop drivers from attempting to conquer their nerves.

Driving anxiety - Performance anxiety

Performance anxiety

No one likes being in the spotlight, and for some driving on public roads can feel like you’re being watched by those around you.

What are the symptoms of driving anxiety?

While the symptoms of driving anxiety are unique to the individual, there are some common signs to look out for. It’s worth remembering that each of these symptoms can be a common response to a stressful or worrying situation, and in time they can be controlled (see our ‘How to overcome driving anxiety’ section further down the page).

Driving anxiety - Panic and fear

Panic and fear

One of the most common symptoms that makes driving difficult, panic and fear may often be excessive, persistent, and unreasonable.

Driving anxiety - Sweaty palms

Sweaty palms

Having sweaty palms is often caused by anxiety and can make gripping the steering wheel or gearstick challenging.

Driving anxiety - Disorientation


Being disorientated can sometime accompany anxiety, and it may also bring on further worries about becoming lost along your journey.

Driving anxiety - Confusion


Being able to make calm and rational decisions is a key part of confident, everyday driving, but nerves can make this more difficult.

Driving anxiety - Rapid breathing

Rapid breathing

A symptom which can make concentrating harder, rapid breathing often accompanies driving anxiety or panic attacks.


How to overcome driving anxiety

The good news is that no matter the cause or symptoms of your driving anxiety, there are plenty of options out there that can help. Some free resources you may already be aware of, while other tailored driving courses may be new but can offer a route to tackle your fears head on.

1. Take care of yourself

Before stepping into a vehicle, try calming techniques such as meditation or breathing exercises – whatever works for you. By calming yourself before stepping into your vehicle, you’ll often find it’s easier to concentrate and remain relaxed behind the wheel. It’s also important not to take any risks if you’re feeling under the weather, tired, or are on medication that can impact your ability to drive.

2. Try virtual reality training

Research has found VR therapy can be an effective way to treat driving phobias. The virtual reality experience will act almost like a video game, which allows therapists to expose drivers to situations that elicit fear, such as tunnels, bridges or overtaking.

3. Minimise distractions

When you’re behind the wheel, it’s important to keep everything that can distract you to a minimum. Ensuring your mobile is on silent and out of sight, keeping music to a minimum, and taking time to set-up your sat-nav before departing will aid concentration and take some of the stress out of driving.

4. Consider lift sharing

Sometimes the pressures of having to drive everyday can make it seem like a burden. Lift sharing either with friends or part of a local group can be a great way to take the pressure off and allow you to get used to a variety of on-road situations as both a driver and passenger.

5. Try a tailored driving course

One-to-one driving courses may seem daunting if you suffer from driving anxiety, but finding a relaxed course that’s right for you can help to conquer your fears and come out safer and more confident than ever before. Below are some of the options for driving courses that can boost your confidence and help you to be better driver:

Advanced Driving Course

Advanced driving courses can help to overcome nerves behind the wheel. Through one-to-one coaching, drivers can build themselves up to achieving an advanced driving qualification, helping to give them advanced skills and confidence for life.

Try an advanced course

Mature Driver Review

If you’re an older driver looking to boost their confidence, a mature driver review is the perfect solution. The 1-hour session allows you to top up your skills, and written feedback can help give you the confidence to carry on driving for years to come.

Try a mature driver review

Young Driver Assessment

Young drivers can sometimes struggle with their lack of experience. If you’re new to driving, it’s worth considering a 1-hour Young Driver Assessment. You can focus on the areas of driving you find most daunting – plus there’s no test and no pressure.

Try a mature young driver assessment