How to beat driving nerves as lockdown sees rise in motorist’s anxiety

Expert advice on coping with driver stress as more people get back behind the wheel

Time away from driving can increase motorists' anxiety

Over the past year most of us have been driving far less than normal and recent research suggests many motorists are nervous about getting back behind the wheel as lockdown eases.

Search traffic around terms such as driving anxiety and how to beat driving nerves have risen by more than 50 per cent since the start of the first national lockdown, with the effects of taking time away from driving clearly hitting home with many motorists.

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As well as experienced drivers who have lost confidence over the last year, there are nearly 100,000 newly qualified drivers whose time on the roads since passing their test has been severely limited.

Nerves can be caused by a variety of things including driving in heavy traffic or on high-speed roads

Whether it’s a lack of experience, feeling rusty or a frightening experience at the wheel, there’s no shame in feeling anxious about hitting the road, especially as more of us prepare to return to a more normal pattern of car use.

To help overcome any nerves USwitch, which gathered the search data, has come up with some advice for nervous drivers with the help of Joanne Mallon, author of How to Overcome Fear of Driving: The Road to Driving Confidence.

What causes driver anxiety?

Mallon says: “Some people feel anxious just at the thought of getting into a car, whilst others feel fine driving in some situations but not in others. For example, it could be motorways, driving over bridges or driving at night. Everyone’s trigger points are different, but usually manifest via an increased heart rate and feelings of fear and panic.”

She has also identified four key causes of anxiety, including prolonged periods away from driving; having been involved in an accident, even a minor one; prolonged periods of stress caused by major life events such as a bereavement; and even childhood experience with a non-driver or unconfident driver.

How to overcome driving nerves

Mallon’s first piece of advice for beating driving anxiety is to take things easy to begin with, sticking to short, local journeys on routes you know well. The familiarity will help put you at ease and banish feelings of nervousness.

Once you start taking longer journeys you should focus on the end goal, rather than the trip itself. Thinking about the destination and why you’re excited to get there helps distract you from the nerves around the driving itself.

Planning ahead is a great way to remove some of the stress associated with driving.

Research your route options beforehand using a mapping service. If driving on certain types of road makes you nervous, you might be able to find a route that avoids these. Also, plan to travel at quieter times to reduce pressure on yourself, take plenty of breaks and make sure you eat and drink to keep your energy levels up.

Mallon also suggests playing your favourite music while you drive. She says: “Music is a great mood lifter and stress reliever, so make a playlist of songs you love that you can play and maybe sing along to in the car. Singing will also help release endorphins.”

You should also take steps to ensure you are calm before you even get into the car.

Mallon said: “If you get into the car as a calm person then you have a much greater chance of staying that way than you would if you were getting into the car already feeling stressed and anxious. Avoid caffeine before you drive as this can trigger anxiety in some people.”

Whatever keeps you calm, do more of it, whether that's yoga, running, meditation or listening to music. Creating a calmer environment will help reduce stress, even if it’s not down to driving.

How to support a nervous driver

If you know someone who is a nervous driver there are things you can do on and off the road to help them.

Before they start driving, discuss what it is that makes them nervous and what you can do to help. Mallon says: “Ask them what they need. Some people like having a passenger to chat to them for company and as a distraction, whereas others prefer their passengers to be silent so they can concentrate on driving. If they seem anxious, encourage them to take shorter, easier journeys.”

Once on the road, if they make a mistake or start to show signs of stress you can help them by being supportive and offering encouragement. Try to help them take deep, calming breaths and if they are particularly shaken up, suggest pulling over somewhere safe to take a break.