Fear of Driving…Bye Bye

This is an image from Google Maps. Google Maps has really helped reduce my fear of driving since I can study the whole route at home before I ever get into a car.

I have been meaning to write about this for a long time. But it’s been a busy year.

SO, we moved to the East Coast last July. We live in a place where we can walk everywhere. Within walking distance are three parks, three grocery stores, a video game store (my boys’ favorite one), at least 10 restaurants that are not fast food + maybe 4 that are, three ice cream shops, public library, community center, pool, and so on.

It seemed there was no reason to ever drive again! Pure happiness. For me anyway. Partly because I love walking. But partly because I have had a fear of driving since age 17. The word “fear” is an understatement–to put it plainly, I just never drove. That’s it. There were no thoughts like “oh, maybe I’ll drive to Target today.” If Target wasn’t in walking distance, I didn’t go, didn’t want to go, and didn’t care. Cause I didn’t drive. I WALKED. But also, I never felt very hindered by it until this year. My jobs are freelancing (mostly), so I have made good money working from home, and when we moved, I always chose places surrounded by tons of things for my children and me to do, so we filled our time with lots of fun activities even without driving.

But then my oldest son began playing basketball. The first practice, we walked home in the rain, and it was dark, and the entire time I was terrified we’d get hit by a car. Then my younger son started basketball, and his practice was across town. And the games were way too far away to walk…I kept trying to figure out how to get them where they need to be without driving. But, I basically had to choose between facing my fear (and driving) or being a mom who lets fear limit her children’s development. That can’t happen.

Time to start driving. I mean, I’ve driven over the years–only to really close places, never busy highways, and even that, very rarely. It was ALWAYS for my oldest son–first for playdates when he was little, then for karate classes because he was a little too passive and needed a confidence boost, then for swimming lessons all the way across town. I could never do it for me–too scary. Why was it scary? Well, I don’t know. I think it started with an accident that happened when I lived in Moscow, Russia. I was in the hospital for a month and still limping long after that–cracked a bone in my back, cracked ribs, breathing was agony due to pain, shards of glass were in my hair for a week because they couldn’t move me to clean my hair. That accident was scary–a truck hit the car I was in, we spun around several times, car was totally out of control on the highway, and so on…I think that made driving seem scary. Also, I started driving too late in life–that seems to cause fears of things–like doesn’t a fear of water sometimes happen to people if they learn to swim too late sometimes? Besides being scared of driving, in my early adult life, I lived in two large cities where most people take the metro rather than driving–which made not driving a completely normal and comfortable lifestyle for me. (Of course, these people knew how to drive and weren’t scared of driving–they just chose not to because they felt it was easiest, cheapest, or whatever…while I chose not to drive because I couldn’t drive and was terrified of it!)

Ok, so anyway, back to the present time on the East Coast. So my oldest son had to get to basketball. And other activities, of course, but basketball was the only one we’d need to DRIVE to…I think there were two major lucky strikes that helped me overcome my fear of driving…make that three lucky strikes: 1) Unlike the roads where we lived on the West Coast, the roads where we live now are almost all two-lane, not four-lane, and the speed limit is 25 on most roads AND the police ticket incessantly for speeding, so everyone drives slowly! YES, I like 25mph. 2) I got a small car, a Corolla. Much, much easier to drive than my 2001 Impala–the newer Impala’s are small, but that thing was a freaking boat compared to my Corolla. 3) I realized that it’s really easy to understand road signs! I was always so afraid of misunderstanding a road sign and messing something up…but I finally realized, it’s not like the highways are full of Albert Einsteins…there are teenagers out there figuring out road signs, people who can’t see very well, people who aren’t super bright, etc–they’re all doing fine. If they can do it, I can do it. 4) I got a driving teacher here to give me lessons, and he kept yelling at me to slow the heck down. Rushing was making it hard for me to focus. I used to drive too fast! Now I drive more slowly, and it’s much less stressful. 5) Make of it what you will–I am NOT good at praying, but some people seem to be, and a few of these people were really praying that I could lose this fear. If you knew me and knew how much this fear dictated where I went and how I lived for over 20 years, you’d be shocked I overcame it–really.

BUT here I am. I’m like a cowgirl on the road. Ha ha. That doesn’t mean anything, I just wanted to call myself a cowgirl because I feel brave. But really, driving is so easy and sometimes even fun. If you found this post in Google because you have a fear of driving, I have some really good tips for you. Trust me, I was most likely much more scared of driving than you are now. But I’m ok now. These tips helped me, and they might help you:

  1. Use Google Maps to see the roads you’ll be driving on. It’s like watching the road you’ll be driving on out of your windsheild, except you’re safe at home (or work) at the computer. No more unexpected crazy stuff like weird lanes that go in places you don’t want to go, signs you don’t understand, all that kind of risky business. You can see the whole route. Then, when you drive it, when you’re totally familiar with it. To see your route on Google Maps, you type in the “to” and “from” addresses, then you drag the little “guy” (at the left of the page) to the road you need to see. Try it. I bet it will really help you feel less scared of driving new places.
  2. At night, use the polarized yellow night driving glasses. Even after I drove in the daytime, the first time I drove at night, I was totally hyperventilating because I couldn’t see anything except headlights! And, while I used to not believe people when they said this, I learned it’s true for sure, because I actually HIT something (a garbage can only, thank goodness, but it did fly way, way, waaaay up in the air)..But I couldn’t see it due to oncoming headlights that “blinded” me. The yellow glasses took care of all that. Don’t forget to get polarized lenses. My glasses cost me like $13, but they made the difference between being able or unable to drive safely at night!
    3) Try to use routes with small, slow roads! Fast roads=scary, slow roads=not scary.
    4) Drive slowly–at speed limit, but not faster. Keep checking on your speed. When you are going too fast, driving and making decisions gets too stressful. Focus, read the signs, and remember that you can always pull over or make a wrong turn if you need to–that’s better than making rash decisions on the road.
    5) Start with a driving teacher and practice one or two routes to and from your favorite places. I totally did this. HUGE difference. It’s sort of like Google Maps–you get some familiarity while you have someone there to help. (Oh, and driving with your husband or Dad? Not a good idea. Best with a driving teacher who is used to students. Dad’s and husbands don’t know how to help nervous drivers, but driving teachers do.) Then you can do those yourself. Then you’ll start to branch out.
    6) Drive a SMALL CAR!!! I used to think the big car was protecting me and my children–actually it was making me have a lot of trouble passing cars, parking, and making driving too hard and too scary. I should have gotten a Corolla years ago.

There you go. I shared real stuff. I usually hate sharing real stuff, but I’m going to write a post or two about real stuff, not jokes. We’ll see if I like it. Probably I won’t. I might even delete the posts because I feel too exposed, including this post. But for now, this is the story of my (past) fear of driving.

4 Responses to “Fear of Driving…Bye Bye”

  1. Please don’t delete this post! I’ve been so afraid of driving myself for years, and now that I have a son I feel like it’s putting way more stress on an already stressful problem. Thanks for sharing! It helps to know others are in the same boat, and that it’s possible to get over it. My husband’s always on my case about getting used to driving, but I’ll try going to one or two places to start out. Thanks again for the tips!

  2. Alyssa,

    Thank you for that note. I actually was thinking about deleting this post because I am not sure it makes sense to most people who read it.

    But I’ll leave it. Maybe someone else who needs encouragement will come across it.

    Best of luck with your driving:D

  3. Thank you for this post.

    I don’t have my driving license yet, especially due to several traumatic situations in the past, like having been hit by a car when crossing a street as a small child.

    At the age 18 I started to visit the theoretical driving lessons but at some part gave up due to lack of cash and motivation, cos I kept thinking: “You can’t do this!”

    I’m now in my mid-twenties and still haven’t overcome all doubts. Yet I started to visit the lessons again and bought myself the sheets they use to test people. It’ll prolly take a few more weeks (if not months) till I will let myself be placed behind a steering wheel. Which is kind of silly, cos I would die to be able to drive a motorbike, but I’m horrified by the cars.

    Reading your entry, especially the part of using google streetview as a training ground opened a whole new world to me. Ofc I use google maps to check what directions to take, but google streetview to simulate driving? Sometimes the obvious is too easy, it would have never occured to me to be used this way.

    So thanks a lot for your honest and helpful entry, I surely will remember to stick to your advice – and hopefully become a decent (especially less scared) road user and future-driver.

  4. Deidre, thank you for your comment.

    I thought after all of my talking about the images on Google maps I should post one!

    Good luck with your driving test. Oh, I don’t think I mentioned in the post…I guess I was 28 when I got my driver’s license, and I had my first lesson at that age also. You can TOTALLY do it!!!

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