There is light at the end of the tunnel that is lockdown now that Boris Johnson has announced his roadmap to gradually opening the country back up. It’s anticipated that we will be on the roads more over the next few months as offices open back up along with non-essential retail and outdoor hospitality.
Some people, however, are worried about getting back behind the wheel on a regular basis after lockdown – especially if they haven't had many reasons to drive over the best part of the year. Losing confidence when on the roads can be nerve-wracking and more common than we might think.
Here, we take a look at Google search data from January 2020 to December 2020 to discover what UK drivers are most worried about and provide advice on how you can remedy these anxieties.
Anxiety Around Motorways
Searches around motorway anxiety were the most common searches for anxious drivers in the Midlands, South East, Scotland, Northern Ireland, Yorkshire, South West, and London. For example, variations of searches like “panic attacks driving on motorways”, “fear of motorway driving”, “phobia of driving on highways”, “scared of driving on motorway”, and “anxiety about driving on highway” were seen as some of the most common concerns. The region which was searching the most on this concern was the South West, with searches 1,000% over the average.
Did you know that the fear of driving is the fifth most common phobia in the UK? Certain situations can trigger feelings of fright, which appears to be dominated by fear of merging and driving on a motorway. Research by Nissan found that over half of drivers worried that they’d get trapped in between other vehicles while 43% were nervous about overtaking larger vehicles like lorries.
It seems that many of us will avoid these situations we find stressful – eight million of us take to the motorway rarely and around 380,000 avoid it completely. Some of us are prepared to detour as far as 26 miles to drive on smaller, less busy roads.
It’s possible that there is such a high anxiety around motorways because learner drivers weren’t allowed on motorways until 2018. Although the law has changed to give learner drivers experience in this area, those who passed their test before 2018 weren’t given a proper education on the rules of the highway and have perhaps feel nervous about it. If you passed your test before 2018 and have low confidence around motorways, driving instructors can help you master the motorway with additional driving lessons. Because you’re already a qualified driver, it’ll be much easier than you think – motorways are safer than many people realise.
Fear of Driving
Searches for anxiety around driving in general was also common across all regions in the UK, including variations of “afraid of driving a car”, “fear of driving”, “being scared to drive”, “driving anxiety symptoms”, “how to overcome driving anxiety”, “fear or driving in traffic”, “teenage driving anxiety”, and “driving anxiety medication”. The Midlands and Yorkshire had the highest growth of anxiety searches, both increasing 200 per cent. In the East of England, “phobia for driving a car” searches was 1,000% over the average.
If you’ve felt the physiological effects of driving anxiety, you’ll be acquainted with sweaty palms, a racing heartbeat, and shaking. This can seriously hinder your driving ability and affect your judgement when on the road. This could be caused by low confidence – you should try and practise driving in familiar areas and less busy roads with an experienced driver. If you feel like you need more guidance, you can still have driving lessons despite having a driving licence.
If you find that this doesn’t help, you should contact your GP for medical advice on how to address these feelings of anxiety.
Driving and the Weather
There were several concerns about driving in cold and wet weather, with searches for:
- “Winter driving anxiety” in Scotland at 1,000% over the average
- “Phobia of driving in the rain” in Yorkshire, the East of England, and London at 89%, 340%, and 371% and over the average, respectively
- “Anxiety driving in the snow” at 520% over the average in Wales.
Weather in the UK can be unpredictable – in February this year some regions like the North East were faced with snowy and icy roads one day and then 12°C temperatures a few days later. This can cause concern for drivers who have less confidence in severe weather. Of course, nobody likes driving in this weather and would much prefer a warm, dry day to drive on, but you should be prepared for all circumstances.
There are a number of ways you can build your confidence and prepare for those dreary driving days:
- Familiarise yourself. You should learn driving methods for specific weather and practise driving in local roads with an experienced driver if you want support.
- Drive at a steady pace. Just because the person behind you might be in a rush doesn’t mean you have to be. Maintain a steady space and don’t rush when cornering. Keep your eyes peeled for black ice, and make sure your tyres are full and healthy.
- Stay prepared. Keep essential items your vehicle like an ice scraper, gloves, and jump leads.
Learning to Drive
Unsurprisingly, there were concerns over feeling nervous about driving lessons. Searches for “nervous about driving lessons” increased 100% in the North West, 67% in the Midlands, and 50% in Yorkshire.
Learning to drive will make every budding learner driver nervous – it’s only natural, especially when preparing for the driving test.
If you’re nervous for your driving lessons, follow these steps:
- Have a nutritious breakfast to set you up for the day. You don’t want the nerves to get the better of you when you’re hungry, as this can affect your energy and concentration.
- Don’t drink the night before your lesson. Get a good night’s sleep.
- Get yourself familiarised with the car’s controls, including the clutch, gearstick, and handbrake. If you know anyone that has passed their test and has a car, ask them if they can show you the basics. If not, YouTube is a wonderful resource for all sorts of needs, including driving lessons. Get ahead of the game by watching some videos.
- Wear something comfortable and suitable to drive in.
- Don’t worry about any mistakes you’ll make. Mistakes are supposed to happen during driving lessons so that you can learn – your instructor will have seen them all before. Don’t forget that your driving instructor will have pedals on their side so that they can help you if you need it.
- If your parents or carers have a car, they can obtain learner driver insurance so you can get some practice outside of your lessons too!
Driving can be stress-free and easy – with practice and building your confidence, you can become a self-assured driver.
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