What Is the Fear of Driving? (Amaxophobia)

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Amaxophobia is a phobia (irrational fear) of driving or being in a car. This condition is also called motorphobia. Driving is a risky activity, and it's normal to have some level of concern when you're in a car. However, severe amaxophobia can cause you to avoid being in a car altogether.

This article discusses symptoms of amaxophobia, as well as its causes, diagnosis, and treatment.

A large 3 lane highway with light traffic running through a rural tree lined landscape with the Colorado Rocky Mountains in the background.

Alex Walker / Getty Images

Causes of Amaxophobia

The exact cause of amaxophobia, and most phobias in general, is not known. However, phobias often develop after a traumatic experience. Having been involved in a car accident—or even having heard about someone else's accident—could influence your condition.

Phobias are considered a type of anxiety disorder. These conditions can be caused by an imbalance of chemicals, called neurotransmitters, in your brain. Two neurotransmitters in particular that can cause symptoms of anxiety are dopamine and serotonin.

The environment you grew up in can also contribute to your phobia. If your parent or guardian had an irrational fear of driving, you might have learned to be afraid of it as well.

It is possible to have a phobia of something without experiencing a negative or traumatic event. Some people have phobias with no known trigger or cause.

Symptoms

Phobias cause similar anxiety symptoms, regardless of the object of your fear. These symptoms can occur while you're driving, or even when you're just thinking about driving. Common symptoms include:

  • Chest pain
  • Shortness of breath
  • Fast heartbeat
  • Sweating
  • Dizziness
  • Fainting
  • Feeling of impending doom
  • Chills
  • Hot flashes
  • Shaking
  • Nausea

Diagnosis

Mental health conditions, such as phobias, are diagnosed using the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5). While amaxophobia is not listed in the DSM-5, this condition is similar to a diagnosis of specific phobia.

Specific phobia is described as "marked anxiety" about a specific object or situation. DSM-5 criteria for diagnosing specific phobia include:

  • Immediate anxiety when exposed to the feared object or situation
  • Fear that is out of proportion to the actual risk associated with the object or situation
  • Avoiding the object or situation, or experiencing significant anxiety when it is encountered
  • Fear that has lasted at least six months

Treating Amaxophobia

Several effective treatments are available for phobias. These can include psychotherapy, self-help techniques, and medications.

Psychotherapy

Talk therapy with a mental health professional is often the first treatment for amaxophobia. One method that is used to treat phobias is cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT).

Amaxophobia is based on irrational thoughts and fears about driving. These thoughts then affect your emotions and behaviors. CBT challenges your irrational thought patterns and teaches you healthy ways of thinking.

Your therapist might use exposure therapy as part of your treatment for amaxophobia. This technique involves gradual exposure to your fears while incorporating newly learned coping methods to control your anxiety response.

Exposure therapy might begin with talking about driving or looking at pictures of people driving. This treatment could also include virtual reality training to allow you to practice driving in a safe environment.

Self-Help

Self-help techniques can be effective for reducing symptoms of anxiety. While these techniques are typically practiced while you are experiencing your symptoms, for safety reasons, you should not perform them while driving.

  • Deep breathing: Focusing on your breath can help reduce anxiety symptoms. Perform this technique while sitting in a comfortable position or lying on your back.

Deep Breathing Exercise

  1. Place one hand on your belly and the other on your chest.
  2. Breathe in slowly, filling your belly with air. Try not to let your chest rise.
  3. Pucker your lips and slowly let your breath out, as if you are blowing out candles.
  4. Repeat for several breaths.
  • Mindfulness: This is a technique in which you focus on being intensely aware of what you are sensing and experiencing in the moment without interpretation or judgment. Sit quietly and focus on your breath for a couple of minutes. Take a walk or spend a little time in nature doing this.
  • Guided imagery: This technique relies on your imagination to picture yourself in an environment that you find relaxing, such as sitting on the beach.

Medications

Severe amaxophobia can prevent you from driving or riding in a car. This can significantly impact your daily activities. Medications can be effective in treating severe phobias.

Benzodiazepines such as Klonopin (clonazepam), Xanax (alprazolam), Valium (diazepam), and Ativan (lorazepam) are rapidly acting benzodiazepine medications that treat anxiety symptoms while they are occurring. These medications can also be taken right before you ride in a car to help you feel calmer. However, they can cause significant sleepiness and should not be taken if you are driving. They can also be habit forming.

Phobias are sometimes treated with antidepressant medications, such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs). Common SSRIs include Prozac (fluoxetine), Zoloft (sertraline), Lexapro (escitalopram), Celexa (citalopram), and Paxil (paroxetine).

Summary

Amaxophobia is an irrational fear of driving or riding in a car. People with this condition may also avoid other forms of transportation such as buses, trains, and airplanes. Phobias can cause anxiety symptoms such as chest pain, fast heartbeat, shortness of breath, and dizziness. Treatments include psychotherapy, self-help techniques, and sometimes medications.

A Word From Verywell

Amaxophobia can make it difficult to go just about anywhere, which can have a significant effect on your everyday life. You might feel like you are suffering alone, but more than 12% of people in the United States will experience a phobia in their lifetime. Be proactive and seek help. Talking to your doctor or a therapist about your symptoms is the first step toward improving your life.

7 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. PsychCentral. What is driving anxiety?

  2. Boston Children's Hospital. Phobias symptoms & causes.

  3. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. Impact of the DSM-IV to DSM-5 changes on the national survey on drug use and health. National Center for Biotechnology Information.

  4. PsychCentral. All about cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT).

  5. PsychCentral. What is exposure therapy? Updated May 17, 2016.

  6. Anxiety & Depression Association of America. Medication options.

  7. National Institute of Mental Health. Specific phobia.

By Aubrey Bailey, PT, DPT, CHT
Aubrey Bailey is a physical therapist and professor of anatomy and physiology with over a decade of experience providing in-person and online education for medical personnel and the general public, specializing in the areas of orthopedic injury, neurologic diseases, developmental disorders, and healthy living.