Is driving anxiety a common thing?

In short, yes, it is. Being too scared to drive or learn to drive has become increasingly more common over the years. There are various reasons why people are affected by anxiety when it comes to learning to drive. Some start with just the fear of the unknown, or fear of not being able to do what the others around them are doing. Others range from having a genuine fear of driving, learning to drive or the driving test when it comes around.

Fear not! This article is aimed at answering some of the most common questions around anxiety when learning to drive and offers some great tips and advice on how to overcome driving-related nerves. We will go through:

  • Driving lesson nerves and anxiety
  • Driving test nerves and anxiety
  • Post driving test anxiety and confidence building

Is it normal to be scared before a driving lesson?

What’s important to remember here is, we are all human, all with individual wants, needs, thoughts and emotions. What you’re feeling might not be what the next person is feeling, but that’s ok. You are allowed to feel exactly as you need to. Here are some helpful steps on how to control your fear before the lesson:

  1. Try to locate the fear, what exactly makes you feel scared?
  2. Write down your fears.
  3. Can it be broken down into smaller, more manageable chunks?
  4. Can your driving instructor help?
  5. Talk about how you are feeling as your instructor may not be aware and therefore cannot support you.
  6. Talk to people who are in a similar situation or have recently learnt to drive, they may provide useful advice.
  7. Try some breathing techniques or some calming and relaxing routines just before your lesson. The Confident Drivers website, can provide many useful resources for this.

How can I stop being scared during a driving lesson?

Most anxiety issues come from the fear of what is about to happen or what is going to happen in the future? We are often scared of things before they even actually happen, or we think the worst. For example, ‘I can’t learn to drive, what if I crash?’. I once taught someone who had so much anxiety about the ‘what ifs’ that she couldn’t concentrate on the task at hand. Here are some useful tips and advice on how to control anxiety when learning to drive:

  1. Communicate with your instructor about your level of ability. Where you feel you are and where they feel you are, sometimes aren’t the same thing. Being open and talking about it will help you to feel more relaxed about the progress being made.
  2. Discuss your next lesson at the end of the previous one. This way you are fully prepared for what you are going into. That way you won’t spend the time between your lessons becoming stressed and anxious about the ‘what ifs’ for the next lesson.
  3. Don’t rely on just your lessons for learning to drive. Study in between, get to know your theory and road knowledge and don’t stop just because you have passed your theory. Learning and growing and then applying on your practical sessions will enhance your driving ability but it will also help to control lesson anxiety.
  4. Keep a track of your “learning to drive journey”. Know what it is that you need to learn and where you are within that process. The Learner Driver Logbook is packed with lots of useful information but also provides you with brilliant ways to track your progress, from a step-by-step tracker to goals setting and mind mapping! Writing things down means you’re twice as likely to remember the information and helps to reduce driving-related anxiety and nerves.
  5. During your lesson, don’t be afraid to ask for time out. Five minutes at the side of the road to take some deep breaths can work miracles.
  6. Take some water along to your lessons, keep hydrated.
  7. Eat a banana before the lesson! Bananas are packed with wonderful nutrients that give us brainpower!
  8. Use breathing techniques to keep your oxygen levels up. Deep, calming breaths are known to centre our nervous system and help us to feel calmer and more relaxed when we drive.

How can I calm my nerves for my driving test?

Driving test day nerves are really common but affect some people more than others. Some of the effects of nervousness can range from:

  • Legs and hands shaking
  • Becoming agitated with anxiety
  • Faster breathing
  • Not being able to communicate properly
  • Unable to concentrate
  • Not being able to remember simple tasks they’ve done before
  • Not being able to take the test

Mock driving tests

Take at least one mock driving test before your real one. A mock driving test can be valuable for many reasons. It is human nature to fear the unknown, our brains are very dynamic and complex organs, and their main job is to keep us safe. When we come across something we haven’t done before, our brain triggers chemicals, which fill us with fear. It does this in order to try and protect us, by getting us to think about whether we really want to do whatever it is we are faced with.

Now, this doesn’t mean we should walk away from things every time our brain releases those fear-induced chemicals. What it does mean is we should prove to our brain that its ok. The more we do something and we don’t die, get hurt or suffer any form of social risk, our brain begins to think, ‘OK, this might be fine, we might be ok doing this!’. The more we then do it, the less those fear chemicals are produced and eventually, they won’t appear at all when faced with that task.

So, this is where mock tests can be invaluable! They can help to reduce those fear chemicals! Sitting mock tests, where your instructor plays the part of the examiner, can really help you to squash those fear chemicals! It’s even better if your instructor has an instructor friend who can do the mock test for you, as it’s a change of person assessing you, just like the real test. Not only that, you get to see exactly how a test is presented, what you can expect within those 40 minutes and how well you would have fared if it had been the real thing. Mock test results can then be used as learning points up to the real test, developing you further as a driver and increasing your chances of gaining that driving licence!

Driving test day

There are some simple tasks to take on board for test day that can help:

  • Don’t take the test before you’re fully prepared. Being underprepared can lead to more anxiety and stress on test day. Find out exactly what is expected of you on test day, what you will be asked to do and to what level. Then track your progress against it. The Learner Driver Logbook has a full list of the syllabus for a driving test, plus a list of common reasons why people fail and a copy of the test sheet and the examiners marking criteria. The more familiar you become with the test, the more prepared you’ll be. Being prepared will help to calm your driving test nerves and you’ll become more relaxed in the situation.
  • Get a good sleep the night before as being well-rested is known to help you have better focus the day after.
  • Stay hydrated by drinking plenty of water (but remember to use the loo before you leave!) as a hydrated body, is a well-functioning one! It helps the brain to process things better!
  • Use breathing techniques or other resources from The Confident Drivers website. Deep breaths calm the nervous system and allow us to think better.
  • Remember the examiner isn’t a scary monster out to get you. They won’t ask you to do anything that you haven’t been learning in your driving lessons or that you have been studying in your private practice time! You haven’t been studying maths to then take an English test! You’re there to do what you’ve been learning.
  • Keep you, your car and other road users safe. Make decisions based on those points.
  • Take a breather if you need to. You can ask to pull over and take a few minutes to calm if you need to.
  • Keep the windows open for a fresh air supply. Fresh air is good for the soul and helps to keep your focus throughout your driving test.

How do I gain confidence driving?

Confidence often comes from experience. The more we do something, the more confident we feel. Learning to drive is not different. For example, when you first start your lessons, chances are you won’t even know how to move the car or stop it again. A few lessons down the road (see what I did there?!) and you’ll be pretty must mastering moving away and stopping but now you might not have confidence to reverse the car.
Having confidence after you’ve passed your driving test, will probably be for a whole other host of reasons, such as confidence driving on the motorway or confidence driving in areas you don’t know. Building confidence post driving test often comes from planning ahead. If you know you need to use the motorway for a particular journey and you’re not feeling confident then you could go through a quick checklist:

  1. Have I driven on this motorway before? If so, what did I learn?
  2. Have I driven on any motorway before? If not, how can I gain some knowledge? Lessons perhaps or some online learning?
  3. Do I know my entire route?
  4. Will I need to use a sat nav or map?
  5. Will I have any support in the car with me?
  6. Is my car ready for the journey? Are the tyres ok? Is there enough fuel?
  7. Do I have some water with me? Where can I take breaks if I need to?
  8. What will I do if I get lost or go off track?
  9. What will happen in the event of an emergency?
  10. How rewarding will it be to complete this journey? How will it make me feel?
  11. How can I control my emotions and thoughts? What techniques have worked for me in the past? Will breathing techniques help?

Planning ahead and having ‘tools’ in your coping with anxiety ‘toolkit’ can be massive in relation to taking control over driving nerves. The important thing to remember is there is no one size fits all method here, we are all individuals and finding strategies to build confidence and reduce anxiety is very personal. It’s important to pick what works for you and not compare to others, as their coping mechanisms may not be the same. Most of all, be patient with yourself and ask for support through the avenues available. Speak to friends and relatives about their experiences, communicate with your driving instructor about how you feel and the plan for future lessons, so you know what to expect. Write things down and track your progress. Prepare, as much as you can, be ready and knowledgeable about the tasks at hand.

Best Wishes to you all!