Do You Have Anxiety Driving on Highways?

Anxiety Driving on Highways is One of the Most Common Forms of Driving Anxiety, But Avoiding Highways is Not the Answer

It even looks intimidating, doesn’t it? It’s like a giant steel river, and every vehicle is a twig being swept along in a raging current. No wonder anxiety about driving on highways is one of the most common forms of driving fear.

Unfortunately, highways are now a fact of life. Avoiding them due to anxiety is not always possible. If you live in a densely populated area, being unable to drive on a highway can be crippling. Going miles out of your way to avoid the highway is just not an option for many people. So how do you begin to overcome this very common type of driving anxiety?

Let’s break it down by the 3 main problems people tend to have:

 1). Merging Onto the Highway

Merging, especially in heavy traffic, can feel claustrophobic and threatening. Many people feel dangerously exposed sweeping into a flood of highway traffic from some small tributary interchange. There’s definitely a confrontational aspect to highway driving, and it’s most intense while trying to navigate your way into the current. Highways demand a certain level of driving skill and the ability not to back down (see How to Make Freeway Merging Less Scary).

Check out this non-driving New Yorker’s story about moving to the Bay Area in California. I lived in San Francisco for 2 years and I SO identify with what she says here:

A Highway Phobic Meets Her Demon: Merging Traffic

The only way she overcame her fear was to confront it. And she needed a lot of help to do it too. Learning to confront our driving anxiety is a common theme for successful recovery. Avoidance tends to make anxiety worse over time.

I’ll give you some more info about overcoming avoidance in a bit, but for now, here’s some “quick fixes” that will make merging more manageable:

  • Drive during off-peak hours — Avoid rush hour traffic if possible. That’s when highway driving is at its worst.
  • Take along a trusted friend — Having someone you feel comfortable with in the car helps you calm down. Plus you have another pair of eyes to help keep track of things. “Sensory overload,” aka hypersensitivity anxiety, is one of the biggest complaints about highway driving, so having someone to watch your blind spots helps.
  • Take a defensive driving class — Your anxiety may be due to a lack of good driving skills. Skillful execution of the physical mechanics of driving means more confidence in scary situations like highway merging.

2). Changing Lanes

This is VERY stressful, especially in heavy traffic. Having to maneuver inside a river of cars used to be one of my worst driving anxiety triggers. Here’s a couple of things I did that helped me a lot:

  • Know the lane changes ahead of time — Suddenly changing lanes on the highway can be extremely unpleasant. Plan out any required lane changes ahead of time, before you drive. Drive the route during off hours to learn the lane changes under easier conditions.
  • Use a driving app for your smart phone. Both the iPhone and the Android have built in navigation apps that give you turn-by-turn driving directions to almost any destination.

3). Driving at Highway Speed

Sometimes we have to drive at speeds that are faster than we’re comfortable with. What’s interesting is that most of our fear about driving faster is psychological.

Let’s say you feel safe going 50MPH but you get nervous if you have to go 60MPH. What’s really changed? In reality, not very much. Something inside you has changed because you’ve left your speed “comfort zone”.

Here’s some more ideas to try when driving at highway speeds:

  • Stay in the right hand lane as much as possible — This lets faster traffic move safely around you on the left and allows you to drive more slowly. Slowing things down will automatically reduce your stress levels.
  • Know the speed limit and drive 5 to 10MPH under it — It’s OK (and perfectly legal) to drive slower than the actual speed limit, especially in the right hand lane. Speeding up to accommodate other drivers is not your job. It’s their responsibility to go around you if they want to go faster. That’s the law. It’s also just basic highway driving courtesy.

Recovering From Anxiety Driving on Highways Means Overcoming Your Avoidance

Successful recovery from driving anxiety is ultimately about facing your fears. It’s about learning new ways of thinking and reacting to the things about driving that scare you. Most experts agree that habitually avoiding something we’re afraid of tends to make us more afraid in the long run.

My life was crippled by driving anxiety until I discovered how to “reprogram” my fearful reactions to driving. I knew there were lots of other anxious drivers out there, so I turned my discovery into the Driving Peace program with the help of anxiety treatment specialist Andrew Cunningham.

I hope this article was helpful for your anxiety about driving on highways. Get some other tips about dealing with common driving anxieties in my free report, “Fast Fixes for the Top 5 Driving Fears”.

Sincerely,

Greg Weber

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Ilian
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Ilian

I have this fear since February 2018. After 22 years of driving with absolutely no stress once I was driving on the highway it hit me so strong that I cant get over it. I can drive very fast and accurate but once I get on the highway everything change. Now I fear but randomly I can drive 200-300 miles with no problem on the highway and when I drive back home it hits me or reverse or both way fear, but not without fear both ways. I still cant understand how it works and how I can stop this… Read more »

Laura
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Laura

I’ve been a driver now for over 22 years (learned to drive when I was 34 y/o), and I’m still extremely nervous especially when I have to drive on highways I’m unfamiliar with. I always look for back roads to locations if I can find them, but sometimes there are no back roads or the back roads aren’t as they appear on a map. Other drivers can’t relate to my nervousness, and they lose patience or are intolerant. I’ve also scared my passengers; however, I’ve never been the cause of a serious accident.

Ivan Penaherrera
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Ivan Penaherrera

I was a law enforcement officer. I am retire now. I agree with the person above who said there is a correlation with not getting enough sleep. I think also that it’s related to ptsd. A lot of retire law enforcement officers suffer from this. When you feel not in control of things in your life- anxiety can overwhelm you and manifest itself in this matter! I don’t know what the solution to this is but it’s comforting to know,you are not alone.

Jeanne
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Jeanne

I used to drive everywhere. Not now! I don’t drive anywhere near highways. It’s too dangerous. Drivers drink, smoke pot, talk on cell phones, jump in front of you. I’ve seen too many accidents. The only time I drive now is when I drive to the grocery store near my house.

Anonymous
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Anonymous

For people who get nervous driving, it really helps to learn the roads! Learning where things are and how the roads connect to each other makes for a confident and defensive driver. There are some really unsafe road designs in my city. Sometimes, feeling nervous can be out of proportion indicating phobia, but nervousness can also be a good thing- it indicates a discomfort with the surroundings. In one exit, in order to reach the final destination, you would need to cross 3 BUSY lanes of highway to come off the main highway exit onto the next road. Unsurprisingly, this… Read more »

Meredith
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Meredith

I drove on the highways for 25 years until I had a panic attack on rt 128 in Boston. Drivers were erratic, fast and the slow lane was being used for anything but driving slowly or safely. I made it home by driving in the middle lane until I reached the RI line but my nerves were shattered from the anxiety. I still drive but not on highways…Driving itself doesn’t bother me but dealing with many who seem to have no sense of care for the other drivers does. So our fears are based on some big truths and that… Read more »

Rob
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Rob

Highways are the WORST for road debris. After dark, but in moderate traffic, swerving to avoid is so unnerving……I don’t want to swerve into another car or into the path of an upcoming car going 30 over the limit….and I’m going the speed limit [or 5 over]….there’s just not too much time to check behind before swerving to avoid or checking if better to swerve left or right. I have damaged tires 4 or 5 times in the past 5 years…..and I just ran over something doing undercarriage damage a few nights ago. I have swerved and avoided more often… Read more »

Shelly
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Shelly

I drove an hour commute for 10 years, and traveled cross country 3000 miles with my parents about 10 times all on busy highway with no issues. My fear came over time (over 30 years) as the population and traffic, and the amount of idiots on the road increased. My fear came from the increase in traffic, the increase in the speed limit, the increase in unskilled inexperienced young drivers (parents are too busy now a days to take the time to teach their kids to properly drive) people use drugs and drive and, most of all cell phone use… Read more »

Nan
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Nan

7fg809: While you make a few good points, if traffic is moving at normal speed – and you’re only driving 40 mpg on a highway, you actually become part of the problem for everyone on the road – not just other nervous drivers. If you’re that overwhelmed, it’s probably wise that you try when possible to stick with local roads (I now do the same). I’m also not convinced that self-driving cars will provide the absolute level of safety so many people are apparently anticipating. I think we’ve seen increasing examples of hacker’s ability to get into virtually every type… Read more »

7fg809
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7fg809

I do not fret at all driving simple roads. On highways the tension dials up. I’m very aware that I’m not happy being where I am. I play it safe and keep it 40mph~. As someone mentioned the world is full of people who play fast and loose passing without signals or without near enough room going 80. I don’t trust these people aren’t watching Netflix on their phones, eating a bowl of cereal and staring at their crotch picking fuzz off their pants at the same time. Rules exist, and you can know most or all of them and… Read more »

Nan
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Nan

This article neglects to mention a key element of highway driving anxiety – at least in my experience, and that’s both the sometimes substantial distance between exits, and the fear of exiting and ending up on another highway (and possibly getting lost in the process). When you’re on a regular roadway – even one with heavy traffic and/or a high speed limit, there are usually frequent opportunities to easily get off of that road, and almost all ‘exits’ are other local roads. On a highway, the next exit may be miles away, and often involves having to navigate numerous overhead… Read more »

Fanya
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Fanya

I’m one of those persons who doesn’t like highway driving anymore. I use to drive in the northeast(on crazy busy highways) but had 2 incidents that really shook me(which put my life at risk) but was OK . (late 90s) I had been driving for 20 years then. To the person who loves to drive fast and doesn’t understand their family and friends anxiety-you don’t sound very empathetic. . We have idiots on the road who feel they can drive 90 miles an hour while multitasking..texting , talking on cell phones who put themselves and others at risk. I don’t… Read more »

MR
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MR

I am very curious as to what causes hwy anxiety. I have none of it. In fact my life long dream was completed when I went to Germany to be able to drive on their speed limitless hwys allowing me to reach consistent speeds of over 150mph, and old people were still passing me. I am an American, but there is something painfully wrong with Americans with how so many are afraid to go fast. In fact its getting pretty annoying with family members that are scared of me driving. Never mind the fact that I have professionally raced AND… Read more »

Bertha Castruita
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Bertha Castruita

I used to drive all over the place and about 6 years ago out of nowhere I started panicking on the freeway. First I couldn’t be with anyone as a passenger on the freeway to now where I’m OK but I can’t be on the driver side. I hv tried taking small steps n drive a little on if n it didn’t help. I need help I hv lost job opportunities because of it.

Joey
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Joey

Same here…I used to have no issue at all on freeways and gradually over the years I have become paralyzed by them. It seems to me somewhat tied to lack of sleep but that definitely isn’t the whole issue. I am mystified why I could drive on freeways years ago but now I can’t!

Yuri
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Yuri

Highway driving is f’d up, Period! Too much unnecessary speed. I used to push 80mph tops in Boston but after getting into a serious accident at 45mph when my car skidded into a shallow valley and came out virtually unscathed, I can barely push 60mph on a highway. Anxiety is killing me on highway so as AAA mentioned, I have come to accept that highway driving is not for me anymore. Although my work routine is an hour long journey to Phoenix, I am much comfortable and feels safe and sad. May be I need help, may be I don’t.

Cheryl
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Cheryl

I completely agree with AAA’s post above. I would rather take an hour to get peacefully where I am going than have a 20-minute HELL ride on the highway. The anxiety is severe whether I am the passenger or the driver. I tried meds, meditation, therapy, and persistence for 10 years. I finally realized there is ZERO reason I ever need to go on a highway again as long as I live. My life is much happier with avoidance.

jermaine
Guest

It really helped me out a lot thanks

TweenselMom
Guest

I guess to conquer fear of driving, one needs to practice A LOT before going out there.

agi
Guest
agi

Oh, dear me! I had had light years of driving practice including German highways where I drove 200kmph. And you know what? a day came when this irrational fear of highways came and could almost do nothing with it. I do drive if i have to, but then im exhausted like hell.

AAA
Guest
AAA

I’m really not sure that saying “avoiding the highway” is the worst thing you can do. In my case, it’s the best. I have ZERO reason to ever drive on the highway, there are always backroads that I can take to get anywhere that I’m going. I have extreme claustrophobia and horrible anxiety when it comes to driving on the highway. Just being in a car gives me horrible claustrophobia but being on the highway makes in worse since I live in OKC which has some of the worst traffic congestion in the entire US. Some of us justs won’t… Read more »

Frank
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Frank

I only find highway driving stressful during the day. I have plenty of confidence in my own driving abilities, but other drivers worry me. People are so much more distracted these days. Add that to the reckless driving habits that have always plagued the roads, and you’ve got a disturbing cocktail. I honestly can’t count how many times I’ve almost been hit by some jerk changing lanes before they had enough room. Most of those times they don’t even bother to signal. It happens almost daily. I’m sure, in their heads, they think they’re great drivers. But in reality they’re… Read more »

Amanda
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Amanda

I think anxiety comes from being uncertain that your skills will be sufficient to keep you safe on the road. That is why I took a mature drivers course. I needed a refresher of how to drive safely and with awareness, so I took a class taught by police officers. It was an anxiety relief for me.

agi
Guest
agi

hey! It really may be a good idea!

tanique
Guest
tanique

When i drive the main streets or highways i can’t breathe and it feels like im going to crash i wasn’t like this when i was younger i dontknow what to do i haven’t took my road test yet what can i do please help.

Peter
Guest
Peter

I dont know how it started but it started out of the blue I am driving Since 2001, One day I drove on the highway and started feeling scared didn’t why I had to exit right away. ever since then whenever I drive on the highway I shake I cant control it. I have been driving on the highway for long time :S don’t know how this started.

MsKatrina
Guest

I don’t have a fear of driving but I am not a big fan. Driving is just a necessary evil for me. I will admit to having a touch of night vertigo though.

jshgtuy
Guest
jshgtuy

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