the irrational fear of driving

April 28, 2010 |  Category:   life

Now, you know I don’t like cars. I haven’t driven a car in well over 3 years and if we’re really counting it’s actually probably closer to 6 because the few times I’ve driven it was just to move the car across the street for street cleaning. The last time I drove a car for real wasn’t by choice. As we were pulling onto the busy road leading up to the highway near my parent’s house, one of Mark’s contacts fell out. Mark is almost, if not actually, legally blind without his contacts. His vision is horrible. Somehow he managed to drive the car onto the side of the road. We frantically looked for his lens which was probably an exercise in futility because the car is full of small crevices for a tiny transparent plastic disc to fall into. But I desperately tried to look for it anyway since I was dreading the alternative.

“well, looks like you’ll have to drive home”.
nooooooo, I thought to myself, but I just nodded, OK.

So I faced one of my worst fears: city driving.
We made it home ok though and I may have even parallel parked.

That should have been a lesson that driving is no big deal, but you know, I get pregnant and start to sit with the baby in the back seat for awhile. And then a few years pass and I’m out of practice again.

I learned how to drive at 17 like most kids. I didn’t drive often but I did get my first used car when I was 24 after college. I drove it around Portland and I was comfortable enough behind the wheel, but I can’t say that I ever loved to drive. Mark and I drove that car, a silver Toyota Camry, cross country when we made the move back to NY. The day after we got here, the car was given to my brother. And that was that. We didn’t get another car until my mom gave us her old Lexus 6 or 7 years later. I might have been pregnant with Mia already, but at that point, I had already gotten into a car accident with my mom and riding in a car started stressing me out.

7 weeks after Claudine was born, the day after Christmas as we were driving home from my parent’s house with a trunk full of suitcases and Christmas presents, we got into a car accident. Miraculously, we were all ok, though a few seconds more and that probably would not have been the case. The car, however, was totaled. The ironic thing about the car accident was that we had just passed one 20 minutes prior on the highway and I turned to Mark and said, “man, that must suck” as a woman stood next to her smashed car in the cold with wrapped Christmas presents by her feet on the side of the road.

If you’ve ever been in a car accident then you know that the whole thing seems to happen in slow motion. The actual impact takes but a second and it’s almost like you blank out for that instance (and maybe you do ’cause that airbag HURTS), but everything after that moves painfully slow. We were at a busy intersection somewhere in Bushwick and I remember the collective gasps on the street as Mark pulled Claudine, just a newborn then, out of the car. After the initial shock and the commotion of ambulances and firetrucks, I started worrying about how to get home. For some reason I thought you’d get escorted home in a police car or a tow truck if your car was totaled – I mean how else would you get home? But people were offering numbers for car services and I soon realized that wasn’t the case. The last thing I wanted to do was get into another car. So we organized all our crap, left most of the presents and suitcases in the car, grabbed diapers and essentials and piled it high on the stroller with Claudine nestled in a sling. We then walked a few blocks to the subway station and took the A train home. It was surreal. It was like an episode of Seinfeld.

So Sunday we are driving home from my parent’s house on the highway and we feel the car jerk. One of the lights on the dashboard flashes on. It’s odd and it’s bit scary, but we think it’s just a one off thing. A few miles down, it happens again. It’s like the car is losing power. Now we’re freaked. Mark drives off the highway on the next exit and as soon as we stop at a stop light, the car dies and won’t start up again. He gets out and instructs me to steer so he can push it out of the road. A man in a truck sees him and offers to help. We’re not sure where we are – maybe in Queens, maybe still in Long Island. The car was just inspected for its annual Inspection just a few days ago so we can’t figure out what’s wrong as the three of us peer under the hood. Mia is fretting in the backseat while Claudine continues to sleep. Mia is old enough to remember the car accident. Our friendly stranger blesses the car because he doesn’t know what else to do and wishes us luck. We try starting the car. It works and we drive it to the gas station one mile down the road.

I don’t know whether our gas gauge is off but it indicated that the tank was still an 1/8 full. After we filled up the car with gas, we didn’t have any issues again and we were able to drive it home on local streets just fine. Maybe we were just running out of gas despite what the gauge said?

I think the fear of driving, aside from the trauma of accidents, is from the loss of control. We can do everything we can to make sure that we’re driving safely, but you can’t predict or control how everyone else is driving. You can’t predict when a car will start breaking down. I find the whole thing extremely stressful. I don’t need reminders that I probably just need to get behind the wheel to get over the fear of driving. I know. As luck would have it, I live in a city where you don’t need a car. It’s been very convenient.

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  • monica of hola!design April 28, 2010 at 4:45 pm

    I’m glad you are all ok. Driving scares me too, I don’t know why. Last I drove it was almost 5 years ago, and I hated it. Like you said, it’s very stressful. Drive carefully!

  • Joni April 28, 2010 at 7:23 pm

    Jenna, I think it’s totally ok NOT to do things you’re afraid of. People are always pushing you to just do it, just do it! It’s okay NOT to do it. If you never get in a car again, no big deal. Lots of people hate getting on horses – it’s a mortal and out of control fear for them. So they never do it. that’s cool. You can just live in NYC and have other people drive you around or make your life dependent on public transport. I only wish more people would do that. I’m trying to.

  • Anna @ D16 April 28, 2010 at 8:33 pm

    As you know, I have never driven a car. I am completely and totally (and irrationally) afraid of driving, though I have no fear of being on the passenger side. I can barely even sit behind the wheel without feeling sick, even if it’s just to look for something under the seat.

    It was very easy to get away with being a non-driver when we only lived in NYC, but now that our time is divided (and includes weekly trips back and forth from our apt to our house), it is getting harder. I still rely on my mother to drive me around if Evan is busy.

    I can’t even imagine how much worse the fear must be having experienced and accident…and with kids, no less. :(

  • kin April 28, 2010 at 10:14 pm

    hi jenna,
    i’m with you on this one too.
    i am 22, and feel really embarrassed whenever the topic of driving and why i don’t arises. i was just starting to feel comfortable behind the wheel last summer, but still incredibly edgy & wary. then in september my boyfriend fell asleep at the wheel & we were in a huge accident – hit an SUV, then spun & collided with the enormous motorboat it was towing. our car was totaled & like you i didn’t even want to get into another car to go home. i was awake through the whole thing though, and remember every detail of the accident itself in slow motion…now i’m beyond edgy regardless of where i’m sitting in the car. i have always felt that people who are uncomfortable driving simply should not drive. if not for their own sakes then for those of everyone else on the road. everyone around me maintains that i should still get my licence in case i’m ever in an emergency situation and have to drive – and of course i can see the sense in this – but since the accident i haven’t even been able to sit behind the wheel to try learning again.
    you are lucky to be in NYC! i wish all cities/towns were pedestrian-friendly & had well organized public transit. i’d guarantee that plenty of drivers are uncomfortable with driving but are doing it out of necessity.

  • Kitty April 29, 2010 at 1:19 am

    Hmm I don’t like driving, mainly because there is bad road rage here (well I think so). I used to drive my parents’ Camry but have not driven since moving out. But I probably will have to in the future + I am a bit nervous.

    Someone hit the Camry once when they ran a red light. Big impact but I could still drive home. But whenever there’s an accident within 2 minutes about 3 or 4 tow trucks would turn up (before any police, ambulance etc) who are like vultures, urging you to let them tow your car so you’ll have to pay them.

    I also prefer public transport as I can look out the window whereas driving means I have to concentrate.

    Glad you don’t need to drive or get in to a car on a daily basis.

  • diamondkelt April 29, 2010 at 8:18 am

    I don’t really care to drive, but here in Ohio you don’t really have much of an option of public transport like you would in NYC or Chicago. I have a 45 min commute both to and from work that drives me thru all kinds of “rough roads”, construction and shi**y drivers. I have to get road raged up sometimes to cover up my fear that I was almost hit by some dick in an SUV. Honestly the semis are better drivers and the majority of the commuters.

    Regardless. I just wanted to point out that even though you’ve been in some bad accidents and don’t like the feeling of not being in control, you still “man up” when you’re put into a situation where you do have to drive :) That’s you trying to control the situation as best you know how and that’s a good feeling to know that yes, you can do it!

    My one accident was a doozy I flipped my car end over end and rolled a few times on my way to a weekend job. God was really watching over me that day and I was scared to drive for a month, but the next day I got in my sister’s car and drove to work down the same road I’d crashed on. I wanted to prove to myself that I was okay and I could be okay no matter what happened. I can’t stay scared all the time because that’s not me.

  • Avalee April 29, 2010 at 9:51 am

    I can really sympathize where you’re coming from — I’ve been in an accident myself, and it was not fun at all. Like you, I also live in a city where there isn’t really any need to have a car. I still maintain my license because it would really suck having to get it from scratch, but I hardly use it… which makes driving a little scarier because I feel out-of-practice and not comfortable driving.

    What I’ve started to do is to practice regularly — I rent a zip car every month or so, early on a Saturday morning and just drive around so I’m not a total mess when I actually have to drive “for real”. It’s not about driving everywhere all the time, just about making sure your skills are there and you’re comfortable behind the wheel when you need to be. Over time, you will get more comfortable. It doesn’t mean you’ll have to drive everywhere, but that you’ll be able to if/when you need to.

    Good luck!

  • flutterbymama April 29, 2010 at 12:26 pm

    Being a confident driver in my teens I have come to realise that, being almost 40, I feel more scared than ever. Maybe that’s 2 head on collisions and a shunt up the rear, but my confidence has definately taken a major nose dive since the birth of my son. He’s now 3 and if it wasn’t for the fact we live some way out of the City I would definately consider never driving again. Unfortunately to have any kind of life I need to keep on at it. I absolutely agree with your point that it’s not me I have to worry about it’s the other morons on the road. Every accident I have had have been caused by other people’s carelessness! One ran a red light as I was turning, one was too busy looking at litter floating across the road and the other, apparently, lost control on some invisible oil slick! I’m so terribly aware of what is going on around me especially when my son is in the car. The problem I now have is that at almost 3 he chatters away to me in the car and I worry about being distracted. I get a headache from concentrating too much!

    I envy that you don’t need to drive and I dread the day my son wants to learn!

  • Renee Alam April 29, 2010 at 1:34 pm

    Hi Jenna,
    Just wanted to say real quick that I received my cookies today & we’ll be eating them tonight when everybody is home. :) I love the packaging & the stickers on them….simple,yet elegant. :)Thanks so much!!! It’s so hard not to open them now. :)

    About your driving,I probably wouldn’t drive if I lived in New York,things can get crazy there.I can never imagine using public transportation but I think if i lived where you do,then you have a valid reason to be scared to drive…we’ve drove through New York at night to get to a wedding & it was crazy there so I think I would probably have high blood pressure driving through that mess. :) You are very lucky to have great public transportation so somebody else can do the driving…..but I have always wondered if it gets a little tired having to sit or stand around strangers after a long day, I know i enjoy the privacy of driving in our own car,but that’s just me.Hopefully you’ll get more relaxed about it so you don’t freak out if you ever have to drive.I’m also explaining to my girls (who don’t drive yet) about how driving isn’t so fun and that as long as you drive safely,you’re not necessarily safe,they have to worry about the person next to them on the cell phone,texting,etc.I have only been hit by somebody twice…last time was a few months ago….I was stuck behind like 10 cars while a funeral was going through an intersection and next thing I knew I felt like the car moved & so I looked in my rearview mirror & all I saw was a huge grill that looked like it was on me….turns out it was an 18 wheeler….luckliy he didn’t hit me that hard but I don’t know what he was doing b/c I had been sitting in the same spot through 3 green lights with all those cars in front of me,so I think he must have been on the phone….now I laugh and say that even though my car looks like a junk pile,it’s a tough Honda….its been through so much. We all have our fears and should not be afraid of them or have people force us to do those things until we are comfortable doing so.

  • Elisabet April 29, 2010 at 2:31 pm

    I know the feeling, though I haven’t been in an accident, close relatives have. And since my daughter was born I am even more nervous. I have driven a couple of times since she was born, the traffic is not too bad in Sweden, even alone with my daughter in the car. We don’t have a car of our own, but I try to drive my parents’ cars when I get the opportunity. i don’t like it though, and I don’t like even the thought of my daughter in a car, regardless who is driving. And it seems everyone else is totally comfortable in cars and enjoys driving. I guess I have too much fantasy, I can imagine everything that could happen. Even as a little girl I did try to stay awake when in a car, as if I could somehow prevent accidents, I don’t know, shout a warning if there was an elk or something.

  • Kelsey @ Yellow is the Color April 29, 2010 at 2:32 pm

    I feel the exact same way! I’m a month shy of 21 and I still have not even gotten my license. I had my permit once upon a time and only racked up I think 5 total hours of driving before it expired. I could drive fine in a parking lot or even an empty back road, but as soon as I was put in the vicinity of other cars on the road, all I could think was, “I know what I’M doing, but what if that guy ____?” I’m like that as a passenger now too. I have to force myself to not watch the road while I’m riding in a car or every side street we pass I’ll think, “What if that guy pulls out in front of/into us and we crash?” or “What if that person doesn’t see us and turns across our lane and we crash?” or whatever. It’s too overwhelming. So glad I’m not the only one!

  • bronwyn April 29, 2010 at 4:21 pm

    I nearly hyperventilated reading about getting in an accident with your children. That must have been terrifying. I am 35 and have never had a licence. I am completely afraid of diving. I live in San Francisco so there’s no need to drive. Everyone told me that I would need to learn once I had my daughter. I would never dream of putting her in a car that I was driving. I couldn’t do it. My husband drives and I feel really safe with him driving. I always get excited when I hear about other people who don’t drive. :)

  • Aimee April 30, 2010 at 9:13 pm

    I fear driving as well. At least I did when I lived in Seattle, an unfamiliar city with a lot of one-way and dead end streets. I lived there for two years and drove 15 times.. tops.

    My biggest fear is someone I know and love getting in a car accident. And that’s why I want me and everyone I Iove to one day move to a city like NY with a great public transportation system.

  • Driving Anxiety December 30, 2010 at 9:24 am

    Just keep driving. Even if you don’t want to. Some relaxing music, breathing exercises and a co driver helped me a lot.