It turns out fear of being a passenger in a car is way more of a “thing” than I realized. I’ve spent years on here talking about anxious drivers. But I only learned recently how many people cope with driving anxiety as a passenger. Check out the number of Google results on this topic:
Over 28M results? That’s crazy!
Out of my own ignorance, I feel like I’ve spent the last eight years practically ignoring passenger anxiety. It wasn’t until some recent articles about amaxophobia treatment and anxiety when husbands drive that it dawned on me how widespread it is.
So let’s do a deep dive into the details of passenger anxiety — what it is, what causes it, what the symptoms are, and how to get past it.
What is Fear of Being a Passenger in a Car?
Passenger anxiety is a specific phobia about riding in a vehicle, usually a car or an airplane. Those who have inordinate passenger fear likely have serious trust or control issues. These issues may be so intense that they don’t feel safe not being in control of the vehicle. This anxiety is also known as amaxophobia.
Amaxophobia runs the gamut from mild and annoying to severe and crippling. A lot of it depends on your individual circumstances. If you live in a walkable city with great public transportation, you may rarely or never need to ride in a car. But what if you live in a rural area? Or a sprawling city like Los Angeles? In those cases, you may have to drive and/or ride every day.
The fear of riding in a car may stem from agoraphobia as well. Agoraphobia is the fear of becoming trapped in a situation where you can’t escape, or where you need help but can’t get it. Agoraphobic people also fear the shame of having a panic attack in front of others.
Any situation where you can’t easily escape can trigger this fear. It can be a physical situation, or a psychological one. Examples of physical situations include airplanes, cars, bridges, and elevators. Psychological situations of feeling trapped include dinner parties, unexpected conversations, or work meetings.
Basically, any situation where you cannot immediately escape if you feel you need to may attach to your agoraphobia and become a phobic trigger that you avoid. And the more you avoid triggers, the greater your fear becomes.
What Causes Passenger Anxiety (aka Amaxophobia)?
As I mentioned above, agoraphobia is one of the main causes. Passenger anxiety may also emerge as a response to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). It turns out that car accidents are actually the leading cause of PTSD in the general US population.
There are about 6M car wrecks each year in the United States that result in about 2.5M injuries. Nearly 40% of car crash survivors develop PTSD afterwards.
You don’t even have to be in an accident yourself to develop PTSD over it. Just witnessing a violent crash can be enough. Even watching a car crash in a movie or on television may trigger PTSD in some people.
Certain psychological factors also increase your risk of developing PTSD. A prior history of trauma, lack of social support, and a perceived threat to your life make it more likely you’ll have a trauma-based response to an accident.
The more dangerous you think car travel is, the more you’ll avoid it. And the more you avoid it, you’ll have even more fear of being a passenger in a car. Untreated PTSD due to an accident creates a vicious circle of increased avoidance and fear.
Passenger Anxiety Symptoms
Symptoms of passenger anxiety vary from person to person. Your symptoms may be mild and manageable, or send you into paroxysms of fear and trigger panic attacks. The most common anxiety symptoms for passengers include:
Intense fear of getting into a car accident
Aggressive backseat driving
Being afraid of accident injuries or fatalities
Fear of being trapped in a vehicle
Solutions for Fear of Being a Passenger in a Car
The best treatment for phobias is professional therapy with a trained specialist. This is especially true if your phobia is a result of trauma from a car accident. You’ll need experienced help to provide the proper support as you heal. You can find a therapist at GoodTherapy here.
Instant relaxation techniques
The main problem with therapy is that it’s insanely expensive these days. If you can’t afford therapy, there are lots of self-help options available.
One of my favorites is an instant relaxation technique I learned years ago from Steve Pavilanis, author of A Life Less Anxious. It’s great for passenger anxiety because it can stop a panic attack within 60 seconds. Check out the video below for how to use this awesome technique:
Another low-cost alternative to therapy is self-hypnosis. I use a company called Hypnosis Downloads to find quality hypnosis audio sessions for anything from fear of heights to claustrophobia.
More Passenger Anxiety Solutions
Sometimes the best way to deal with fear is to distract yourself from it. I almost always listen to music when I’m riding in the car. It keeps my mind off my anxieties and lets me ride more peacefully.
Another great distraction for passenger anxiety is audio books. Since passengers don’t need to pay attention to driving, distracting yourself with a great story helps keep your mind focused on something other than your anxiety. I use Audible to find tons of fantastic books on tape.
Also known as the Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT), tapping uses acupressure and psychology to physically alter your brain and nervous system.
EFT consists of tapping with your fingertips on specific meridian points while talking through trauma and negative emotions.
I know it sounds stupid, and you may even feel a little bit stupid the first time you try it. But tapping for anxiety is amazingly effective. Here’s an introductory tapping video that shows how it works:
Fear of being a passenger is a very common, widespread anxiety that affects many millions of people. It can be caused by trauma, or as the result of agoraphobia. I hope the above solutions help you manage your passenger anxiety more successfully. And I’m glad I’m understanding passenger fear better myself too!