CBT for Driving Phobia

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy for Driving Phobia


What is it?

Driving phobia is characterised by a marked fear of driving or travelling as a passenger in a car, coupled with avoidance of driving and/or car travel. Driving phobia may be associated with specific types of driving situations only, such as motorways, or country lanes, or with fear of traffic jams, or driving at night.

When driving phobia is interfering with your ability to engage in activities and go to places you used to enjoy, this is the time to start to do something about it.
If you are no longer relaxed in the car, avoid busy roads, or unable to face the motorway, CBT is the most effective treatment for this problem.


Symptoms and treatment

How do I know if I have driving phobia?

Driving phobia exhibits itself in many ways. Here are some problems you may be experiencing:

  • Avoiding motorways
  • Not being able to travel outside your 'safe' area
  • Anxiety as a passenger (e.g. warning the driver, pressing an imaginary brake, grabbing the seat or door handle)
  • Excessive planning around car travel
  • Not being able to overtake other vehicles
  • Fear around lorries
  • Hesitation and anxiety at roundabouts and junctions
  • Fear of crossing the road, or walking near traffic
  • Avoiding car travel or only using other forms of transport
  • Not being able to drive in poor weather conditions, or heavy traffic

How does CBT help?

While fears once established can be difficult to shift, psychological treatment is found to be most effective in overcoming travel anxiety. 6-8 sessions of CBT for driving phobia with an appropriately qualified CBT therapist can turn around fear of driving and car travel.

What happens in treatment?

CBT treatment for driving phobia aims to change the way you react to driving or travelling in a car. Instead of reacting with fear and anxiety, CBT will help you to work on a more positive response to the situation.

In CBT sessions, your therapist will help you to explore and understand why you feel the way you do and why you react in a certain way. Together with your therapist, you will be able to develop coping strategies to help you deal with anxiety-provoking situations. As your confidence grows, you will be encouraged and supported to put all your hard work into practice by gradually facing your fears in real-life situations.

Self-help - Back in the Driving Seat by Sian Thrasher

Can self-help work with driving phobia?
Back in the driving seat

Back in the Driving Seat can help you get back to confident driving. Written by Dr Sian Thrasher, chartered clinical psychologist and specialist in treating emotional reactions to trauma, this easy to read guide will help you to help yourself to rebuild confidence in the car.

How does Back in the Driving Seat work?

Back in the Driving Seat is designed as a workbook, taking you step-by-step through the process of getting to grips with your driving phobia. It helps you understand why you developed a fear of driving or car travel and what is keeping that fear going - why the problem hasn’t just gone away.

It lays out very practical ways that you can relax and manage your anxiety in tense situations. Chapter 6 will guide you through identifying negative thoughts that keep your fear going to being able to challenge those negative thoughts with more realistic thinking.

As your confidence grows, you will be encouraged to start facing your fears by gradually practising the skills you have gained in real-life situations. The book gives you advice on what to do if you're struggling or have a set-back, and when you might need more help from a therapist. Visit www.drivingphobia.me for more information and to buy the book.

"On-the-road" Treatment Option

While the treatment of choice for driving phobia is CBT, you may find 'on-the-road' treatment helpful. Our associate, Mike Weatherstone, is experienced in treating fearful drivers.

When asked about treating driving phobia, Mike says:

"Treatment can take many forms, but one of the fastest and most cost effective is 'on-the-road' CBT therapy.  When carried out by a suitably qualified professional in both disciplines - CBT and driving assessment skills - progress can be very rapid ... A one-day course where the client uses their own vehicle, but accompanied by the specialist, is often sufficient to equip the driver with all they need to self-treat from then on."

Mike Weatherstone's website, www.drivexcel.co.uk, outlines aims and benefits, as well as client success stories.

Case Studies

Patients stories


Carol had been in a road traffic accident with her mother and both had sustained serious injuries. When the physical injuries were recovered, she remained fearful driving on country roads, and would avoid driving wherever possible. As a passenger, she was jumpy in the car, shouting out warnings to the driver and pressing an imaginary brake. Her driving phobia caused arguments with her husband, and made car journeys uncomfortable and upsetting.

With the help of Back in the Driving Seat, Carol was able to see that this kind of reaction to an accident is quite normal. With specific exercises, she was able to reduce her anxious back seat driving, and at the same time began to practice driving herself to see her friends again. She was surprised to find that with a graded step by step approach, her driving phobia retreated, and she was able to enjoy the benefits of car travel without the fear.


Since his road traffic accident, Derek had experienced regular panic attacks while driving. Several times per week, he would feel tense and hot in the car, and find himself gripping the wheel tightly, with his heart pounding and worrying that another accident would occur. At times he would need to pull over in order to calm down. He no longer felt confident enough to drive with his children in the car, and spent more time working from home in order to avoid the roads.

With the help of Back in the Driving Seat, Derek learned to understand the mechanisms behind his driving phobia, and learned how to manage his panics. By practising the techniques outlined, he was able to overcome his driving phobia, and become panic-free in the car. He now drives his children regularly and his driving phobia not longer affects his life.


What our patients say

It made me realise that I'm not the only one (with fears)" Simon - road crash survivor used Back in the Driving Seat to overcome fear of driving at night.

I thought I would never drive on a motorway again ... But the good work continues. Two weeks ago I was called to a meeting down in Ascot which meant me driving on the M40 and M25. Later that week, I attended another meeting in Wolverhampton where I used the M42 and M6 (and passed the spot where I had my accident). Before working with Back in the Driving Seat, I would never have attempted these journeys and whilst they require huge effort and concentration for me to make them, at least I feel as though I am in charge of the situation now." Carla - road crash survivor used Back in the Driving Seat to overcome fear of motorways