Driving and driving test anxiety: tips for overcoming worry and negative thinking

Back July 29th, 2021

It’s not unusual to feel anxious or worried before any test; none more so than a driving test, where your ability to control the car and avoid any unsafe behaviour can be challenged by a wealth of external factors.

Additionally, the long waiting times for both theory and practical driving tests since the easing of lockdown have only served to further heighten that anxiety for some. The Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency has reported that there are currently 420,000 people waiting for a test and the average waiting time nationally for a driving test is 17 weeks – it can be even longer in some areas.1.

While for some the wait may give more time to overcome and manage anxiety, given the current backlog, the fear of failing and having to wait a further four months for a re-test, is giving rise to a more anxiety inducing experience.

Others worry about getting back behind the wheel after a long break without driving, while for some, it is the act of driving itself that is the underlying cause of their anxiety.

Driving on a busy road, crossing bridges, driving at night and a host of other hazards on the road outside of our control can be extremely anxiety provoking for many of us. Previous bad experiences such as encountering poor drivers on the roads or even having been involved in a car accident, can also be trigger points for driving anxiety.

However, there are many ways to help reduce driving anxiety if this is something that is causing you sleepless nights and worry. Firstly, make sure you have enough time to get practice driving with your driving instructor so that you can really get on top of the practical side of driving. Driving instructors are there to answer any questions you might have and to teach you how to drive competently and safely.

It is also important to let your driving instructor know if you are experiencing anxiety and to tell them what makes you anxious so they can support you in stressful situations. Remember, if you don’t feel comfortable with your instructor, you can always check with the driving school or organisation and see if they can allocate you a different person

Having enough time to practice driving, particularly after a long period of time of not driving is important in order to rebuild confidence. However, there are also other factors to consider which can assist in helping you cope. These include making sure you plan ahead and attend driving lessons or the driving test itself, when you are fully rested and hydrated. In order to reduce the likelihood of stress levels spiking up, avoid caffeine before driving and eat healthy food. It can be also helpful to do some light exercise like yoga or walking and to meditate or listen to music to lessen anxiety and reduce negative thinking before driving.

On a practical note, check the roads around your home on Google Maps and try to familiarise yourself with the local area. Alternatively, if you are preparing for your driving test, have a look at the routes near the test centre and familiarise yourself with the area with your instructor.

In addition to these techniques, here at Anxiety UK we have a wealth of support services available to help with the management of driving anxiety including therapies such as Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT),  counselling, clinical hypnotherapy, Compassion Focused Therapy (CFT) and Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing therapy (EMDR);  For More information on support available, click here.

References: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/coronavirus-covid-19-letter-from-dvsa-chief-executive-to-driver-and-rider-trainers-about-restart-and-recovery-of-services/letter-from-dvsa-chief-executive-to-approved-driving-instructors-about-restart-and-recovery-of-services