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Drivingoverphobia - Learners need coaching through fears

Published:Sunday | September 22, 2013 | 12:00 AM

Sheldon Williams, Gleaner Writer

For some persons, driving a motor vehicle is a nerve-racking experience which they try to avoid at all costs. Persons who fear driving may create excuses not to drive and depend on others to chauffeur them about, or travel by public transportation.

In its severest form, this fear may be a driving phobia.

Seth Grennell, instructor at Grennell's Driving School, explained to Automotives that driving phobia is common in learner drivers. However, most times it is remedied by frequent, supervised driving exposure on main roads.

"About 80 per cent of them have a phobia of some sort, whether it is to driving or interacting with other motorists on the road. I teach mainly females and females usually have more of a phobia, or they'll express their phobia more. They'll tell you point blank that they don't want to drive on the road with a big truck or bus or with taxis," Grennell remarked.

He said student drivers often panic when they encounter bigger vehicles and avoid driving past or even getting close to them. "They'll physically want to come off the road while driving, which is in itself not safe. So they'll see a bus coming in single lane traffic and they'll even try to drive on to the sidewalk to ensure that the bus doesn't hit them. So we have coined a phrase that they take evasive action," Grennell said.

He attributed the fear to a harsh driving environment. "Before the learner drivers come on the road, they see how people drive. I think when they do go behind the wheel and are aware of their limitations, they are faced with the fact that the vehicle itself is a powerful tool and they realise their abilities and reflexes aren't great," he said.

"Plus, the other road users aren't kind especially to learner drivers. You will have taxi men who will cut in on learner drivers and minibuses come in on them and they have to work with such an environment."

Grennell said overcoming the fear is gradual. "What we try to do is try to get them in such an environment without announcing it. We kind of let them graduate from baby steps before they realise they are driving on the main road. It usually takes about six or seven lessons, but everyone is different. What we try to do is to get them to do what they can do and should do and don't worry about other motorists," Grennell said.

Grennell emphasised that when the phobia is triggered "a lot of people swerve. Also, you realise that a lot of them might press the brake sharply and stop the vehicle suddenly. Then some of them, in a panic to press the brake, press gas and speed up the vehicle. That happens a lot more times than you may think."

"I've also seen students who scream and take their hands off the wheel. So everyone's reaction is different but those are the main ones."

The fear of crashes is part of driving phobia. "I remember I had a student, three of her relatives were involved in major collisions and she could barely drive. I was more of a psychologist than a driving instructor with her. We had to work on her mentality. She said in all of the collisions her relatives weren't wrong, but someone ran a red light or broke a stop sign. So, for her, she believed no matter how well she drives, another motorist will do something wrong and end up hitting her," Grennell said.