If the thought of getting behind the wheel brings you out in a cold sweat, even if it’s years since you passed your test, be reassured that you’re not alone. Anxiety about driving is very common, particularly among women, with nearly half of us feeling nervous on unfamiliar roads, and a significant 7% experiencing a feeling of dread whenever we drive*. Joanne Mallon, author of 'How to Overcome Fear of Driving' (£7.99, Nell James) says, ‘Women are more likely to admit to driving anxiety, particularly if they’ve had an accident, a break from driving or undergone a major life-change.’
*Research by Diamond
Do you handle your regular commute or the school run without any problems but find the prospect of driving to an event miles away daunting? Its easy to get stuck in a comfort zone, especially if you get into the habit of letting your partner take care of longer journeys, says driving instructor Kathy Higgins of insight2drive.co.uk. Share the driving on long trips so those skills dont get rusty. And re-read The Highway Code so you fully understand road signs and markings. When you do have to drive somewhere new, plan the route in advance or use a sat-nav. You can use your smartphone if its secured to the dashboard.
‘Having other drivers cut you up or beep their horn at you can be very unsettling, especially when you’re not confident to begin with,’ says Joanne. ‘Some people are trigger-happy with their horn, but don’t take it personally. Treat these incidents as a learning experience. Were you too slow or hesitant, and can you do it better next time?’
Being dazzled by oncoming headlights is one of the trickiest aspects of driving in the dark. ‘Don’t look at the headlights,’ urges Kathy. ‘Focus on the left-hand kerb and keep your speed steady. Avoid driving along at 50mph only to slow down when there’s oncoming traffic and then speeding up again. It’s confusing for cars behind you. Aim for a speed you can maintain, such as 45mph, and stick to it even if you could go faster at times.’
Practice makes perfect, so try out different parking challenges, such as a hill or bay park, when you’re not rushed for time or hassled by traffic. Taking it slowly is the key to parallel parking – you can adjust as you go. And new technology could help – Ford has introduced Active Park Assist on some models, meaning the car automatically steers into a space. Other makes, such as the Peugeot 208, have dashboard screens, allowing you to view your car’s rear. You can also buy reversing cameras for your car.
A study by Aviva revealed that over half of women think having their partner in the car affects their driving, making them stressed and nervous. ‘Critical people often think they’re being helpful,’ says Joanne, ‘but explain that you find negative comments stressful and that they make matters worse. Music can discourage conversation and distract you from your companion’s attitude. If the problem is ongoing, then just refuse to drive with them.’
Try instructor Kathy Higgins’ relaxation techniques
● Release your arms and shoulders.
● Play soothing music or sing.
● Use affirmations, such as ‘driving is safe’.
● Breathe deeply – and exhale for longer.
● Pretend to be a confident driver you know.