Anxiety Girl: Life with the World's Worst Superpower

I Hate Driving And That's Okay

While staying with my parents over the holidays, I spent a lot of time explaining to my dad why I didn’t want to drive. I live in Boston and get everywhere via subway, bus or walking. Even before I moved to a city with public transportation, I hated driving. Yet whenever I stay with my parents, they expect me to drive, and I will on one condition: it has to be absolutely necessary (like if my parents are out-of-town and no one is home to be my chauffeur). My dad will always try to persuade me to drive when it isn’t necessary though, because he claims I need practice. And every time he tries to make me drive, I cry. I’m 22 years old and am constantly reduced to tears at the thought of driving when someone else could just as easily drive me. It’s embarrassing, but I swear I can’t control that reaction.

I’m a passenger! Even when walking with someone on the sidewalk, I have to be on the right side of them because it feels like the passenger seat. When I do drive, I always go to the passenger’s seat first, and then I have to feel like an idiot when I remember I have to sit in the other seat to drive. I truly believe that is my brain telling me I can’t handle the pressure of driving.

I’m sure I was excited about getting my license when I was 16. I had to be! Driving meant freedom, independence and not taking the bus to school. It meant proving my seniority over my friends, all of whom happened to be a few months younger than me. But I don’t remember the excitement; I only remember being nervous.

I was nervous when I took driver’s ed, which I chose to do during the summer so I had more time for electives during the school year. (It was the summer, the final Harry Potter book was released, so roughly 60% of the class was reading it beneath their desks rather than paying attention. They probably grew up to be terrible drivers.) Driver’s ed was horrible for me. I didn’t know anything, which I found shocking. I was in the car when my mom tried to teach my oldest brother to drive, and my other brother went through a phase where he spent countless hours talking about horsepower and mileage and other car-terms. Surely something had to have rubbed off on me, but no. I knew nothing when it came to driving and cars, and that was a terrifying realization. How could I be expected to operate an actual moving vehicle if I could barely pass a written test about driving a car?

Eventually, I got my learner’s permit, which only led to more terror. My brothers each learned to drive with my parents, but it was decided that I needed some extra help. My high school offered an afterschool course called Behind the Wheel, and I could learn to drive with a qualified instructor a few days a week. During my first lesson, the instructor told me to meet him outside in the Malibu. So I went outside and stared at the row of cars in front of me. How was I supposed to know which car was a Malibu? I stood in the middle of the parking lot, unsure of what to do, until the instructor came outside and found me.

“Look at the back of the car!” He yelled at me. “The type of car is always on the back!”

By the time I sat down in the driver’s seat, I was already shaking. I clutched onto the steering wheel until my knuckles turned white. I don’t think I breathed much during that first lesson. I don’t even remember what I learned that day, other than how to figure out where to find the make of a car.

For my second lesson, my instructor was my English teacher, and it went much better. Once I got into the car, he turned on the radio and actually talked to me while I was driving. It was less formal, and therefore much less intimidating. Thankfully, he was my instructor for the majority of my lessons. When I was able to discuss books and homework assignments, I felt at ease. It made driving a lot easier because I was focused on something other than the possibility of an accident. Other instructors (and my parents) always yelled at me to not focus on the radio and to not talk, but, as weird as it sounds, I needed those little distractions to keep me focused on the road. Without them, I was too wrapped up in my own head, which led to much more dangerous driving.

The first time I took my driver’s test, I felt confident. Too confident. When parking alongside the curb at the end of the test, I decided to try to get exactly six inches from it. Instead of parking six inches away from it, I drove right over it, giving me an automatic 0. I failed. (Which is totally okay! A lot of people fail the first time, like my idol Cher Horowitz!) That was the second test I ever failed, and the first was an eye test. I wear glasses for that, but there weren’t any magical lenses to make me a better driver. I had to practice and keep learning.

A week after I failed my driver’s test, I tried again and passed. The state of Pennsylvania deemed me worthy of being on the road, but I didn’t feel ready. I panicked every time a light turned yellow because I didn’t know what to do. I sat with my neck craned, making sure I could see everything in front of me. I avoided the highway (which I still do). I was only 16! What dummy trusted me with a car? By the time I was 18, I was involved in two fender benders, one of which was definitely my fault (the second one was questionable). Fortunately I drove a Jeep Grand Cherokee, which was pretty big and very sturdy. I was safe, but I probably wasn’t in the right mindset to be a driver yet.

I know a lot of people who never learned how to drive or waited until they were older, and I commend them. You have to be ready to drive, and if that means you have to wait a little longer than others, then so be it. I probably should have waited a year of so before getting my license. A lot of people are ready at age 16, but I wasn’t. I’m a naturally nervous person, and putting me behind the wheel only made that worse. Now I usually feel ready to drive, even if I don’t particularly enjoy it and will cry to get out of it, but it took me a lot of time to get to this point.

I honestly think it’s okay to be afraid of driving. Cars can be dangerous, and being a driver is a lot of responsibility. And when I do drive now, I feel comfortable. While I only drive a few times a year, I have the hang of it. Yes, occasionally I forget which way to turn the wheel when backing out of the driveway, but that’s only in my driveway. By the time I get out of my neighborhood, I fully remember how to operate a vehicle. Even though driving gives me anxiety, I’m handling it right now. In a few years, I’ll reassess the situation, but for now, I think I’m doing okay when it comes to driving.

Image Via Shutterstock

  • Laura Elizabeth Donovan

    Ha, of course it’s OK to hate driving, it’s deadly! I hate parking more than anything but driving is pretty darn intimidating. One upside of living in NYC was having great public transit — LA, not so much!

    • Chelsey Falco

      And that is why I will never move to LA! Thanks for reading!

  • Heather Shull

    I feel like we are kindred driving spirits! I am also 22, and I didn’t get my license until I was almost 20. My friends tease me because when I drive, I drive exactly the speed limit, except for on the highway, which I force myself to go 5 mph over…unless I can find a semi to hide behind! I feel like driving is dangerous and a big responsibility and not enough people look at it as such. Thanks for posting!

    • Erica Rodriguez

      I’m 24, and I don’t have a license. I get around by walking, taking the bus when I can, or if anyone in my family is okay with taking me somewhere. I got my permit when I was 21 but I just could not pass my driving test.

      It’s difficult for me to admit this aloud because there’s so much stigma against people with this kind of anxiety. Even after reading some of these comments, I just wish people had more sensitivity about this subject matter.

      I agree, driving is a big responsibility, and people tend to not think of it that way.

      • Chelsey Falco

        Thanks for reading! I’m glad I’m finding kindred driving spirits through this. There is definitely a stigma attached to hating driving, but hating it, or being afraid, isn’t the same as being a terrible driver! Driving is very scary and not to be taken lightly.

  • Omega House

    I think this article is pretty irresponsible. If you’re driving a car, you should feel 100% confident. Otherwise, you pose a danger to yourself and everyone else you share the road with. I would advise you seek further driving lessons – in the UK we have a scheme called the Pass Plus, which you take after getting your full driving license which tests proficiency in night time driving, motorway (highway) driving and other challenging situations. I would investigate an option like that.

    It’s simply not safe to be driving if you are double guessing all your own decisions, and it’s highly irresponsible to lead people into thinking that this is okay.

    • Johanna Sch

      …where in this article do you see her advocating for “PLEASE DRIVE IF YOU FEEL UNSURE SCREW EVERYONE ELSE”?! I must’ve missed that part.

      I hate driving, and it makes me anxious. That doesn’t mean I’m not capable or competent at it, though. In fact, I did a young driver’s safety training for a full two day after I got my license, just to make sure that I was prepared for most situations! But it never took away the anxiety and I still avoid driving in the dark or rain unless I absolutely have to.

      However, all these things don’t make me a bad or incompetent driver. In fact, I would argue that a little anxiety leads to more aware and safe driving, but that’s just me. Either way, I think you were a bit quick to judge here.

      • Chelsey Falco

        Thanks for reading! I definitely did not mean to say it’s okay to be an incompetent driver. What I wanted was to let other people who share my fear and dislike of driving know that they’re not alone. And for me, at this stage in my life, it is okay to hate driving because I drive maybe three times a year. If I had to drive more often, I would seek out more lessons, but for now, I’m okay where I’m at. I in no way condone unsafe driving, and if people get anything out of this article, I hope it’s that they realize they can say no to driving in situations where they’re uncomfortable doing so. Hopefully that clears up any irresponsibility on my part!

  • Caroline Dos Santos

    If you had have to drive in São Paulo/Brazil you would hate this 1000x more!!

  • Stefanie Gijdé

    I have the same issue – even though I’m a bit older and I learned to drive somewhere in my 20s (here in Belgium it’s not something that we get in school) when it was a requirement for a job. While I’m still ‘happy’ that I did get my driver’s license and I never had an accident or anything I’m terrified if I ever have to drive. But I don’t own a car so I can say it has been years since I drove, I don’t need one at all for the moment either… But it’s a very ambiguous feeling in my case, I love cars, especially vintage ones, I’d love the idea of driving an oldtimer but to actually be on the road just petrifies me. Not because I can’t drive because I actually can but I guess it’s an idea of loosing a bit of control (since you can’t control what crazies might be driving out there even if you yourself do everything by the book) but at the same time I sometimes long for the feeling of driving as well. And also I have so many dreams where I’m in an accident you’d be scared to get in a car to begin with…

    • Chelsey Falco

      Thanks for reading Stefanie! Like you, I don’t have a car at the moment, but I do have a dream car. It’s weird, because I know I’d be terrified to drive it, but a part of me wants to have a car around. And I agree that the fact that you can’t control the crazies on the road is part of why driving is so scary!

  • Amanda Whitt

    I know a lot of nervous drivers. I am, but not because I don’t think I can drive, but because a lot of people can’t and they’re licensed. I just prefer not driving.

    But your dad’s right, too. You won’t get better if you don’t practice. I sucked at driving at first, too. It wasn’t until I got my own car and drove every single day that I got any better.

  • Heather Dewar

    When my dad tried to teach me how to drive, I was nervous, and we were learning on an actual road with cars (a small semi-rural suburb that was quiet, but still), and I tried to pull out from the curb and didn’t pull out enough and scraped the wheel on the curb. My dad flipped out – it wasn’t even his car, it was an old one they bought so my sister and I could learn to drive in! – and kept telling me how I would never amount to anything, how I was a complete waste of space, and how I should just give up on life now. I walked home (about an hour and a half), and I have never sat in the drivers seat again, because when I do I have panic attacks. I don’t think I will ever be able to learn to drive because I can’t stop myself hearing how useless I am when I sit in that seat.

    • Joanna Czarnecka

      I am so sorry for you. You’re not useless, you can’t drive because no-one ever taught how to do it. Nobody have a right to tell anyone such harsh words.

      Just.. Be well :)

    • Chelsey Falco

      I’m so sorry to hear your first time driving was such an awful experience. No one should have to hear those things, and I can understand why that has led to a mental-block on driving. Maybe you’ll get past it someday, but if not, that’s fine! Driving isn’t a necessity for life, and there are ways to work around it!

  • Alexiah Carter

    While I am not a nervous driver, I hate driving, I didn’t get my license until I was 19 and a sophomore in college. Even as a teen I was never interested in driving and I live in Houston, TX where if you know driving is a must because the city is huge and doesn’t have the most refined public transport system.

    Either way I can’t stand the stress and responsibility of driving, maintaining a car, buying gas, and city dweller road rage and stupidity, Yep I hate it all.

  • Maryam Yusof

    I can relate to all of this! I receiving my driving license on my first try when I was 18 (legal minimum age here in Singapore) but I would have a major breakdown whenever I had to drive. The public transport here is excellent too so I wasn’t compelled to drive. My New Years resolution last year was to pick up driving again and re learning it was the worst. I eventually relearnt it gradually through a lot of practise and after a few breakdowns. It’s been a year since I picked up driving again and I’m happy to say that I haven’t been in an accident and I drive almost everywhere now!

  • Emily Orr

    I’m 18 and got my license summer of 2013. I’m an anxious driver, and I like to avoid it. But I know what I’m doing, and I think what gives me anxiety is that other people are don’t realize by driving irresponsibly in any way can end a other persons life or your own. I think what makes me nervous is that when I drive, I am responsible if I do something wrong and I hurt someone.

    *note. I’m aware that I do plenty of things wrong when driving. It’s that that makes me nervous to be around people on the road because I could accidentally hurt someone.

  • Samina White

    I only learnt to drive when I was 20, three years after I legally could have, because it was getting more and more expensive here in the UK to do so. The cost of a driving test tends to go up every year. Since I took mine four years ago the price has increased by just under 10%.

    (Oh and the fact I found out my younger sister had been learning in secret and I wanted to beat her to it :p)

    You have to do a theory test first It includes 50 questions and an interactive hazard perception test). You have to get around 80% to pass. You then have your hour long practical driving test which you have to pass without making a certain amount of minor errors and no majors. You also have to pass your practical within two years of passing the theory otherwise you have to start again from scratch.

    In addition to the cost of the two tests, you have to pay to rent the car you use which can be anything from £20 – 40 per hour. Very few people in the UK will buy a car before passing because of the cost of insurance and MOTs etc. Due to the cost of everything, that was the main pressure when I was learning. If I failed (which I did once) all that money just went to waste and I had to wait six weeks to take my test again (this is unfrotunately normal in this country) and so had to pay for more lessons during that time to keep me up to speed which what I’d learnt and my confidence levels up.

    I’m so glad I learnt when I did because with student debt and a job with no pay rises in the last three years and none on the horizon, I definitely couldn’t afford it now.

  • Holly Smith Mills

    I hate driving and I hate being a passenger! I hate being in cars. I don’t so much mind driving around in a small town, but I really don’t enjoy that either. Being on the interstate is a nightmare. Driving through a city? No way. We lived in Tucson for a year and even though that isn’t a super congested city, the roads terrified me. I was 32! I’m 33 now and I still barely ever drive. I live in a small rural town so there is absolutely no public transportation. A couple of years ago I lived in a college town of about 70k people. Again, not huge. Not that busy. I still chose to take the bus to work and everywhere else I needed to go. I even tried to talk my husband into the hassle of taking the bus when we went anywhere in town together. It’s terrible. I’m constantly sure that we’re going to get into a wreck. Even in slow speed areas, I just know that we’ll either get hit by some drunk driver driving 50 in a 25 or even our low impact fender bender will somehow maim me or my son. I live in the midwest. The winter months are terrible for me. I cry several times each winter over having to leave the house and be on the roads when there is the slightest chance of snow or ice. I worry about my husband not paying attention and hitting someone or sliding or going too fast, but mostly I worry about other idiots killing us.

  • Brook E. Smith

    I learned to drive by driving. When my family moved to the middle of nowhere, Idaho, it was decided that my driving should start immediately. I never took driver’s ed like my peers, getting their licenses and permits starting at age 14. Instead, I just kept driving, yes illegally. In Idaho you may get a driver’s license at age 17 if you pass the written and drive with a police officer test. I finally got my license after driving hundreds (or more) miles. Driving was always a chore for me, I was like a chaffuer for the family. I still don’t like to drive.

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