12 tips for anxious drivers

Girl looking out car window

Admit it – there’s probably at least one part of driving you'd like to avoid. Whether it’s navigating to new locations, braving unfamiliar motorways or simply parking in a tricky space, don't worry, here are some ways to feel calm, confident and in control.

By Steve Smethurst

Racing hearts, sweating palms and headaches – just some of the symptoms that nervous drivers face when they get behind the wheel. There are many factors involved. Imagine that you were once in an accident and are now driving at night, in dreadful weather, in unfamiliar surroundings in a car you’ve never driven before. And there’s someone right behind you with their full beam on.

Maybe you have nerves of steel, but UK government statistics1 show that there were 1,390 road deaths in the year ending June 2021 and almost 120,000 casualties resulting from accidents. So, it’s little wonder that there are some anxious drivers out there.

Fortunately, there are steps you can take to conquer your nerves and make driving pleasurable, or at least to enable you to get from A to B without too much stress.

  1. Research your route, so you know what to expect and where to go. If you can, test the route in advance when the roads are quiet and the weather and light are good. Preparation is half the battle.
  2. Using sat-nav may help but remember they don’t always get it right. Have a map in the car just in case, especially if you’re travelling with a passenger who can help with directions.
  3. Playing music may help to take the edge off your nerves.
  4. Focusing on your breathing can be helpful. Taking in long slow in and out breaths can help to reduce your heart rate.
  5. Don’t let other drivers pressure you into driving faster than you’re comfortable with. Let other vehicles overtake when it’s safe to do so.
  6. It might help to avoid caffeine before you drive. It’s a stimulant and could make nervous tension worse.
  7. If it all gets too much, pull over in a safe place like a service station or a side road and take some time out before starting again.
  8. If it’s been a few years since you passed your test, it’s probably worth brushing up on road signs and all drivers should be aware of the recent changes to the Highway Code.
  9. Similarly, it might help to go back to basics and remember all the good driving habits you learnt, such as always checking mirrors when turning or braking; ensuring there is enough distance between you and the driver in front of you; and signalling with plenty of time.
  10. Believe in yourself. You’ve passed a driving test; you know what to do. You’ve got this.
  11. The minimum car insurance you need to drive in the UK is ‘third party’, but you may feel more confident if you take out a comprehensive policy which will give you extra protection should something go wrong. Aviva’s comprehensive car insurance includes vehicle recovery, legal costs if you’re in an accident and motor injury protection.
  12. Finally, if these tips don’t work for you, it might be worth getting help from the professionals, perhaps by booking driving-refresher or motorway-driving lessons. Some people have been helped by therapy, like hypnotherapy or CBT following trauma.

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