How to Manage and Overcome Fear of Motorway Driving

Do you meticulously plan car journeys to avoid travelling on motorways? Find yourself driving miles out of your way on winding B roads? Or taking the train, even when you’re laden with luggage and holiday …

Do you meticulously plan car journeys to avoid travelling on motorways? Find yourself driving miles out of your way on winding B roads? Or taking the train, even when you’re laden with luggage and holiday paraphernalia?

If you have a fear of motorway driving, you’re not alone. A 2009 survey found it was an anxiety shared by 1 in 7 drivers. There’s even a name for it: motorway anxiety disorder.

For some people, it’s a mild discomfort that makes driving a hardship instead of a pleasure. For others, even the thought of motorway driving can bring on sweats and palpitations.

But however severe your motorway anxiety, it doesn’t have to run your life. We’re going to look at how to get over the fear of driving on a motorway, and regain your confidence.

Is driving on a motorway scary?

It’s not irrational to be nervous about driving on a motorway. The traffic is fast. There can be lots of manoeuvring. And if you passed your test in the UK before 2018, you won’t have had a lesson on a motorway beforehand.

So if you’re anxious about motorway driving, that’s okay. But it doesn’t mean you’ll always have to feel this way.

How do I get over my fear of driving on a motorway?

When it comes to how to overcome a fear of motorway driving, there are lots of different approaches. 

Some people find it reassuring to understand more about the levels of risk. For others, learning and practising the practical aspects of motorway driving makes them more confident behind the wheel. And in some cases, techniques for reducing anxiety can be the answer. 

There’s no right or wrong approach. And you may find that combining all these strategies is the key to overcoming your fear.

Understanding the risks

You might be surprised to hear that, statistically, motorways are very safe in comparison to other types of road.

In 2020, accidents on motorways accounted for just 2.8% of all road accidents. In contrast, the figure for roads with a 30 mile per hour speed limit was 57%.

And the higher speeds on motorways don’t necessarily translate to more serious incidents.

In 2020, motorway accidents accounted for 5.4% of accidents where there were fatalities. Again, the proportion is much higher for 30 mile per hour roads, which accounted for 33.6% of such accidents. 

It’s true that if an accident happens on a motorway, the chances of a fatality are higher than on slower roads. But even so, deaths in motorway accidents are rare. In 2020, 2.9% of motorway accidents sadly resulted in someone losing their life.

How do you gain confidence on the motorway?

In lots of ways, motorway driving is the same as driving on other roads. The key is to know the rules of the road (more on that in a moment), and to be alert to what’s happening around you. 

These days, drivers of all levels of experience—including learners—can get motorway driving lessons. That will give you the security of driving besides a qualified instructor and in a car with dual controls. And it can be a great way to build your confidence.

Driving safely on the motorway: 10 tips

Here are some practical tips to help you get to grips with motorway driving.
Here are some practical tips to help you get to grips with motorway driving.

1. Give other vehicles room

Stopping distances increase the faster you’re travelling, so make sure you leave enough room between you and the car in front. That will allow you time to react if the unexpected happens, giving you the best chance of avoiding a collision.

The Highway Code says you should leave a gap of at least two seconds.  Time it by waiting until the vehicle in front of you passes a stationary object. Then count the time until you pass it too. If it’s less than two seconds, reduce your speed.

2. Take extra care with large vehicles

Large vehicles tend to move more slowly, and their drivers will have limited visibility. Give them extra room and remember: if you can’t see their mirrors, they probably can’t see you at all.

3. Give other drivers time to react

Just as on any other road, remember the drill of “mirror, signal, manoeuvre”.  Make sure you give other drivers plenty of notice of your intentions. And remember to turn off your indicators after you’ve completed your manoeuvre.

4. Keep left

Good lane discipline helps keep you and other road users safe. Stick to the left unless you’re overtaking. And when you’ve finished overtaking, pull back in. Don’t overtake on the left unless you’re in a queue that’s moving faster than the lane on your right.

5. Watch your speed

Keep an eye on your speed. The motorway speed limit is usually 70 miles per hour, but it can vary depending on the conditions. Watch out for changes to the limit displayed on overhead gantries.

On smart motorways, speed limits can be varied to regulate the traffic flow. Just as with other motorways, the changes will be displayed on signs on gantries. They’ll be enforced by speed cameras too—so ignoring lower limits will be expensive as well as dangerous.

6. Look ahead for hazards…

Scan the road ahead to give yourself time to react to changing conditions. Watch out for brake lights on the cars ahead, messages on gantries, and obstructions on the hard shoulder.

7. …and look behind too

Things can change on the road behind you, as well as in front. And remember, everything moves faster on motorways. Check your mirrors regularly, even more often than you would on other roads.

8. Only use the hard shoulder in an emergency

The hard shoulder is a refuge for emergency use only. Don’t move into it unless it’s absolutely necessary. The only exception to this is on a smart motorway, where the hard shoulder can sometimes be turned into a running lane to ease congestion. Watch out for signs telling you when this is the case.

9. Take regular breaks

Stay alert while you’re driving by taking regular breaks. Aim to stop before you feel tired.

10. Know what to do when you run into trouble

Knowing what you’d do if things went wrong can be a very effective way of managing anxiety. And it also means you’ll be well prepared to respond to unexpected events—including problems with your car.

The Highway Code has detailed guidance on what to do if your vehicle breaks down. That includes extra rules for breakdowns on the motorway.

Investing in good breakdown insurance will also help give you peace of mind.

Getting calm—and staying that way

As we’ve seen, there are lots of practical ways to manage the fear of motorway driving. But what if your anxiety is still off the charts? 

Panic attacks while driving on motorways are a real concern for some drivers. And here, stress management techniques can be very helpful. 

Planning ahead, visualising your journey, and avoiding caffeine before you get in the driving seat can all help. And while you’re driving, try deep breathing and listening to calming music. Bringing along a trusted friend or relative can also help keep your anxiety levels in check.

Some people find a technique known as “commentary driving” very effective too. This is when you narrate your journey as you drive, describing what you’re seeing and doing. It can help shift your focus from the anxiety inside your head to the world outside.

And if you’re sharing your vehicle with little ones, keeping them occupied can be key to managing your stress levels. Check out our blog for tips

Remember, too, that you don’t have to do all this on your own. There are some excellent specialists out there who offer driver therapy to overcome fear of motorway driving. You can book a single session or a whole programme, depending on your needs. 

Why do I get panic attacks on the motorway?

The reasons behind panic attacks when driving on motorways can be many and varied. In some cases, they might be connected to a traumatic event. In others, they can have a physical cause.

Driving therapy can help you identify the triggers for your anxiety. And it can give you strategies to help manage it.

Handling your fear of motorway driving

A fear of motorway driving isn’t unusual, and it’s nothing to be embarrassed about. 

There are lots of tools and techniques you can use to overcome your fear. And don’t be afraid to ask for help. Motorway driving lessons can build your confidence, and driving therapy can help you find ways to manage your anxiety.

Stick with it, and one day your fear of motorways will be a distant speck in your rear view mirror.

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