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Treating Post-Accident Vehophobia – The Fear Of Driving

Vehophobia, or the fear of driving, is a very real issue suffered by many people. In fact, it is quite common—both in people who have been involved in serious accidents and sometimes in those who have not. Many people who suffer from Vehophobia choose not to drive altogether because of the anxiety and fear is so overwhelming. The problem can be can be extremely disruptive to one’s life.

The word “vehophobia” comes from the Latin word veho meaning, “drive”, and the Greek word phóbos meaning, “fear”. There are also other similar forms of phobias that may relate to or be in addition to vehophobia, such as amaxophobia, the fear of riding in a vehicle, or hodophobia, the fear of traveling.

The fear of driving after a car accident is technically a form of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). People suffer from PTSD for all kinds of reasons, including motor vehicle accidents. This can be set off by the trauma of almost dying (or thinking you might die), the trauma of injuring your children, or just the violence of the event in general. It really can be caused—and triggered—by any multitude of things.

The fear of driving persists for many different reasons, each one often as unique as the driver. But there are some general ideas the prevent people from driving, or create massive anxiety while driving. They are:

  • The fear that they will get into another accident, even if they have driven for years without getting into an accident before the recent
  • The thought of driving causes them to suffer extreme and crippling anxiety, which prevents them from even attempting to get behind the
  • The fear that they will suffer a panic attack while operating a vehicle, which they think will harm them or cause another
  • The fear that they may harm or kill another person, family, their own children, or their entire family.

Regardless of the reason that some people fear driving after an accident, the results can be extremely debilitating to their lives. Anyone who suffers from anxiety, or who has had a panic attack before, knows just how scary the whole situation can be. In addition to the general uncomfortableness of the phobia, it is also extensively limiting to their everyday routines. Imagine if you couldn’t pick up your kids from school; drive your date to a restaurant; or run up to the grocery store to pick up some milk—all because of a crippling fear.

Luckily, the disorder is taken very seriously by the healthcare, safety, and injury attorney community. For this reason, there has been much research into effective ways to help people overcome their fear of driving. The following are some real, concrete techniques that can help get accident victims back on the road.

Psychotherapy

Psychotherapy is the most commonly used technique for treating anxiety disorders, other than medication. Two common forms of psychotherapy are behavioral and cognitive therapy. Cognitive therapy helps a patient to adapt their anxiety-inducing thought patterns into something more manageable. For example, a therapist might help someone with driving anxiety to prevent panic attacks by teaching the how to mentally re-approach the anxiety-inducing experience of operating a motor vehicle. In behavioral therapy, the therapist will help the patient to contest undesirable behaviors related to the fear. For example, the patient will learn to change their behaviors that are contributing to the fear. This may come in the form of controlling their breathing, not avoiding certain roads, or limiting obsessive behaviors.

Prolonged Exposure Therapy  (PE)

PE is a form of behavior and cognitive therapy designed to treat post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety disorders, and obsessive-compulsive disorder. The therapy consists of a patient re-experiencing the traumatic event through visiting the painful memory and through real exposure to the fear. In PE, the process of confronting the painful memory is called “imaginal” exposure. For example, a patient may remember their car accident, the aftermath, and so on to relive the experience.

This is often the build up to something called “in vivo” where the patient will confront the fear in real life. The process of in vivo exposure allows the patient to experience the thing that is causing them anxiety or stress in a safe and controlled way. For those who experience vehophobia, this may start with riding in a car with the therapist driving, then working up to driving in an empty parking lot, then on a backroad, then on the highway, etc. As the patient moves through each step, they learn to confront their feelings and to understand that their anxiety level will decrease over time. This treatment is considered highly effective.

Hypnotherapy

Hypnotherapy—more commonly referred to as hypnosis—uses guided relaxation, intense concentration, and focused attention to help a person process specific thoughts or tasks. This technique is specifically helpful as an aid to psychotherapy because the hypnosis can allow those suffering from anxiety to explore the painful thoughts, feelings, and memories that they associate with driving in a more relaxed state. Hypnotherapy can also help some to be more open to discussion and suggestion, which can help a person to confront the deeper issues involved in their vehophobia.

Medication

Medication can be a useful tool for reducing the impact of traumatic anxiety, although most therapists prefer the more permanent, behavioral therapies be attempted first. However, sometimes medications are deemed necessary to help relieve extreme, debilitating anxiety—in conjunction with cognitive and behavioral therapies. Medications may also be used as an initial treatment or for short-term use in specific, infrequently situations.
Two of the most common drugs used to treat phobias like vehophobia are beta-blockers and sedatives. Beta-blockers work by blocking the stimulating effects of adrenaline, such as increased heart rate, elevated blood pressure, pounding heart rate, and shaking body. Sedatives, like benzodiazepines, help a patient relax by reducing the amount of anxiety they feel. However, sedatives are not the best choice for vehophobia since they can cause notable drowsiness. They also carry a significant risk of dependence.

Defensive Driving Course

Some people overcome driving-related PTSD by taking defensive driving classes in order to learn new skills to help them combat the fears of the road. This approach can help give those suffering from vehophobia a greater sense of control and restore their faith in their own driving abilities. It also gives them comfort in the idea that if some unwanted situation was to occur on the road, they would have the skills to avoid it.

[Click here to learn about ways to speed up your recovery from an accident.]

Other Tips to Help Curb Vehophobia

Face the fear head on. This tip is about gradually building up exposure to driving. Although this is best done with a therapist, if your PTSD is moderate you could start to face it on your own. This starts with realizing that you are not alone and that this fear is not weird or odd. Once you have confronted the idea, you can start to take small steps towards facing your fear completely.

Don’t let setbacks stop you. Every progress you make towards confronting your PTSD is a good thing. When you face setbacks, experience fear, or avoid driving, don’t be discouraged. Facing this sort of thing will take strength and time.

Keep the bigger picture in mind. As mentioned earlier, vehophobia can be costly to one’s daily life. Remember what you will gain if you can get over this fear.

Think of it as minor. Don’t think of your PTSD as severe or permanent. It probably isn’t. Just remember that this is just one of the bumps in life’s road—you will overcome it.

Dolman Law Group

Experiencing post-traumatic stress or anxiety after a car accident is very common and happens to millions of people. You are not alone. You can also take comfort in knowing that there are many effective ways to help treat the issue. At Dolman Law Group, we understand the devastating effects that a car accident can have. For this reason, we have devoted our practice to helping clients recover physically, financially, and emotionally. We are happy to help. Contact our Clearwater office today to schedule a free consultation and case evaluation.

Dolman Law Group
800 North Belcher Road
Clearwater, FL 33765
(727) 451-6900


*The above information was written and reviewed by either Attorney Matthew Dolman or another injury lawyer at the Dolman Law Group which has a combined 90 plus years of experience practicing Florida personal injury law. Matthew Dolman himself has been practicing personal injury law in Clearwater and St. Petersburg for the last fifteen (15) years. The information provided comes from extensive research and years of experience trying legal cases in courtrooms throughout Florida.