Can You Drive… Please? My Excruciating Driving Anxiety

Elizabeth Kilgore


July 27, 2020

On my 17th birthday my mom left a car in the school parking lot and a key in my locker with a note congratulating me on getting my driver’s license.

At the end of the day I sat in the car wondering if there was a way to get both ME and IT home without actually driving the car. I had gotten my license because it was the natural thing to do; I had no intention of actually using it.

I told my dad when I was 9 years old that I never wanted to drive. He laughed and told me to write that sentiment into a letter addressed to my 17-year-old self to see how my feelings would change. Shockingly (to him) they didn’t.

Eventually I built up the courage to drive the car home, and along with it built up a nervous sweat and an unnaturally high heart rate. The anxiety that driving provoked at a young age was not unfounded. I had left elementary school one day to find out my grandmother’s car had been struck, flipped, and totaled because a woman ran a stop sign and flew into her bumper. I’ll never forget how impossibly massive her bruises were, how it seemed more of her skin was black and blue than wasn’t.  

Yet I do not pinpoint my anxiety to this traumatic event, nor to the deaths of two other relatives who passed in car accidents. Instead, driving has always been guilt-inspiring, rather than fear-instilling, to me. Cars are weapons, and I am palpably aware of the danger I might inflict while driving one.

I do drive today, but I strictly avoid highways. I prefer two-lane roads where the speed limit does not exceed 35, and I prefer not to be driving in front of or behind anyone. My knuckles often turn white from gripping the steering wheel at 10 and 2 too tightly. My music is never loud enough that I can’t hear my heart beating out of my chest (in fact, my heart rate increases so much that my smartwatch has started tracking driving as physical activity).  I use Google Maps every time I get behind the wheel, even if traveling a route I drive every day, just in case the roads have changed.  You never know.  If I can help it, I drive alone. Driving a sibling is manageable, driving two siblings is anxiety-provoking, driving three siblings is almost forbidden. Friends are out of the question unless the circumstances are absolutely unavoidable.

I never lay on the horn or come too close to another car. If you cut me off, I will probably smile and wave at you. I want to present myself as the most unthreatening moving thing on the road.  I envy every pedestrian I pass. Oh, to switch places with them, to be the one on foot and not behind the wheel.

Deep (deep) down I know that I’m a good driver.  And I know that the more I practice, the more comfortable I’ll (probably) get.  But I also know the road to confidence is a long one, and I choose to take it slowly.

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With immense gratitude, the Promly Team.

Elizabeth Kilgore