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I've just graduated college and landed a job in the US that will eventually involve me driving long distances to meet with clients. These trips will likely involve three hours of driving on highways in the US and ultimately driving in cramped city areas. The trips are too long to reasonably take a taxi or bus but they're also too short to convince my boss to authorize a flight. I own a safe vehicle and every metric I can get ahold of (driving classes, passenger comments, a clean driving record) tells me that I'm perfectly capable of making the drive.

The problem is I am unabashedly terrified of driving. I hate the high speeds, the unsafe aspects of it, the thought that I'm capable of accidentally killing somebody else or getting killed, all of it. The thought of going above 40 miles per hour or merging into traffic or even hearing about traffic accidents literally makes me sick to my stomach with stress. And the greatest irony here is that my job is creating road safety applications, so my day-to-day job involves not only accepting the danger of driving on US highways but actively convincing others to accept it as well.

I've managed to live the last six months of my life either walking wherever I need to go or taking slow side-roads that at least lower the chance of a dangerous accident, but it's clear that I won't be able to live like that much longer. Besides everything else, I'd really like to be able to go out with the other guys at work some evening without feeling guilty and stressed.

I'm looking for something that would help me get over this issue without impairing my ability to drive. I understand that other people on this site deal with the same stress in regards to flying (again, irony not lost on me, countless comments assuring potential flyers that it's much safer to fly than to drive in this country) but most of them involve becoming inattentive or impaired in some way that would make driving more dangerous to myself and others.

EDIT: Thanks a lot for the support. I really didn't know how widespread this fear was. Just wanted to address some common views in the answers:

1.) There's an undercurrent here that I should remain off the roads because my terror makes me an unsafe driver. While my phobia has kept me from driving as much as I should have and left me out of practice, it's also given me a really sick appreciation of the dangers of driving impaired or inattentive or without a thorough understanding of the road structure or so forth. So I kindly request that other people with a fear of driving not write themselves off as unsafe strictly because they're afraid.

2.) Thanks for the advice concerning immersion therapy. I was actually mid-way through it a while back until I got to the "Drive short distances at night" section of the thing and nearly plowed into a guy in a black car without headlights at 11:00 PM (Say what you want, a guy terrified of driving probably wouldn't be driving without headlights...). But for the time before that it did seem to work. I'll try picking it up again. The company actually has some very nice resources at my disposal and I might even be able to spin this as a travel expense.

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    Is your job well-paying? Tesla cars with an auto-pilot are already available on the market. – JonathanReez Supports Monica Jun 25 '16 at 21:46
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    It is possible to get through life without driving, mostly by living and working in cities with decent public transit, and by accepting that traveling outside those areas will be more difficult for you than for most people. But it does mean turning down any job that requires travel. – Karen Jun 26 '16 at 10:09
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    Why on earth did you accept this job then? Frankly, if I was in the US I wouldn't want you on the road with me. Someone who's that scared and physically stressed can't possibly drive safely (driving too slowly is dangerous). Find another job and please don't drive until you've dealt with this. I don't think strategies on dealing with this are on-topic on this site. – Lilienthal Jun 26 '16 at 12:29
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    I don't know much about transport options in the US but couldn't you use intercity coaches (e.g. Greyhound?) or some rideshare service like blablacar? I travelled a little in the US without driving and while it was difficult, it wasn't impossible. – user56reinstatemonica8 Jun 26 '16 at 15:00
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    How is this a travel question ? – happybuddha Jun 27 '16 at 3:45
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First, driving sometimes just isn't for everyone. Some people simply do not like it and are seemingly unlikely to change. If you find that you are firmly stuck in this category, it's worth evaluating whether you can move to a city with robust public transit, as this could improve the quality of your life immensely. Just as some people find they must arrange their life to live near animals or mountains or the ocean, some people may need to arrange their life such that they can get by without driving and accept both the advantages and disadvantages that come with that.

That said, this is something a good driving instructor can help with. There's no reason you can't get some lessons even if you already have your license. Find a good driving school and explain that you're a nervous licensed driver who would like some refresher lessons. They can do this in a car with dual controls so the instructor can assist as needed. Pick a few of the things that concern you the most (merging, highway driving, etc...) and ask to focus on them. Practice and work to become more comfortable.

Beyond that, fear of driving is an actual problem many people have, and behavior therapy can be effective. You could seek out a clinician with experience helping people with phobias and anxiety and work on strategies to relieve the stress you feel while driving.

You'll have to evaluate for yourself to what extent your fear comes from lack of practice vs psychology and which approach would be most helpful to you. A combination of the two may be even more effective.

Good luck!

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    In addition to driving lessons, you might also consider Closed Course safety training, e.g. where you learn to control your car in difficult situations. Ask your automobile club. – user24582 Jun 26 '16 at 15:02
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I'm looking for something that would help me get over this issue without impairing my ability to drive.

If you are terrified of driving, your ability to drive is already impaired. Road safety depends on all road users acting in a rational and predictable manner (and following local laws and customs, of course). Most likely, other drivers will not be expecting any actions that you might take which are caused by your terror of the situation you are in.

Lack of confidence in driving in unfamiliar situations (for example heavy traffic or high speed roads) is something that can usually be overcome simply by practice, but your use of the word "terrified" suggests something more serious than that.

It's not clear from your question if the problem only affects you when you are the driving, or in the more general situation of whenever you are travelling by car. Either way, getting some professional medical help is the best starting point.

Some "refresher" driving lessons, or a course on advanced and/or defensive driving techniques, may be useful, but they will be much more useful after you have made some progress in sorting out the root cause of the problem, which is likely to be psychological.

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You stop being scared of things by being used to them, and driving is no exception. You can get used to it by doing it more.

If you are terrified of driving in general, start by practicing in empty parking lots and country roads (preferably paved ones). You can ask a friend to take you if the route to the practice area is too scary.

Some kinds of fear are easier to confront if you prepare a safer area to practice. For instance, perhaps you are scared of braking hard from a high speed: You could find a very large empty area, and practice speeding up and then trying to brake as hard as you dare. You can tell yourself that even if you don't brake hard enough, or the car skids out of control, you're surrounded by pavement anyway so you won't slide off the road and you won't crash into anything, and eventually the car will stop once you let go of the gas. Then you can try again. Similarly for sharp turns, though you might want to be a bit careful about pushing your car too much since if it rolls it will damage your car. These things are good exercises to do anyway since they teach you the limits of your car and help you drive more mindfully.

To practice long distance highway driving, you should try to find seldom-used highways and just drive on them to get used to changing lanes, keeping speed, entering and exiting and so on. Again, since the highway is empty, if you get scared you can always slow down or pull over without causing an accident. In the US at least, there are many highways in good condition, where (depending on time of day, location and so on) you may see no cars at all for hours, or maybe a car every couple dozen miles, or maybe every few miles. Usually, highways that go from nowhere to nowhere (between towns with tiny populations, through a very sparsely populated area) are the least used. Camping is a great hobby for this, since you often drive to distant wilderness areas that nobody is going to.

Once you are confident about handling the car, and emergency maneuvers (such as pulling over, slowing down, changing lanes) you can start gradually working your way up to highways and roads with more cars (and worse drivers).

While learning, I think it is very helpful to have an experienced co-driver with you, who can point out mistakes and give advice if you get confused. This should probably be a good friend, though - it seems that this sort of thing is very effective at getting both the driver and the helper very upset easily.

Also, some of your fears are unfounded. For instance, it's true that 70 mph is a very high speed. Slamming into a wall while going that fast could be very bad. However, you would normally only be driving at that speed on a highway - where everyone else is also driving at about 70 mph, so there is no stationary object for you to hit if you stay on the road (highways are constructed to minimize sharp turns, so all you really need is to drive straight and occasionally change lanes to stay clear of other cars). Collisions with other cars will be at much smaller relative speeds. Of course sometimes there may be speeders, drunk drivers, wrecks or debris on the road, or wild animals that wander on the road (deer are a big problem in many parts of the US) and these are indeed dangerous.

And it's worth keeping in mind that driving is an inherently risky activity. For every mile you drive, there is that much more opportunity for an accident, just statistically speaking. While the risk is actually quite small (most people today are frequent drives and yet live to die of old age), out of two people, all else being equal, the one who drives more is at greater risk in proportion to how much he drives. And among other every day accidents, car accidents are among the most common and lethal.

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    There's good advice in here, but as for the second to last paragraph, highways are, in fact, surrounded by stationary objects. – Zach Lipton Jun 26 '16 at 4:36
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    @ZachLipton In addition, when one car crashes, there is a non-negligible chance that it may turn into a stationary object, leading to a pileup. – March Ho Jun 26 '16 at 12:52
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My problem was similar but different. I originally was an enthusiastic driver, but after a particularly frightening car accident resulting in serious injuries to my mother and myself, I became terrified of driving. I would try to drive and my mind would start imagining all the horrible types of accidents and deaths I could potentially experience. I would go into panic attacks and have to pull over. I missed an entire week of class because of these attacks.

I tried counseling, and it helped a little but what really helped me was a combination of 2 things: 1) buying an F-250 pickup truck and 2) praying before I start driving. The truck was so big that it made me feel like I was driving a tank. You'd be surprised how much of your anxiety disappears when you're driving one of the biggest things on the road. The prayer was just to calm my mind before I got behind the wheel. For those who don't believe in prayer, it has the same effect as meditation for others. The main thought is to calm the mind.

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    I wouldn't suggest to someone who is terrified and might make a wrong move while driving to get an EVEN bigger car.... His terror makes him an unsafe driver. Please don't put him in something even more dangerous:/. – Patrice Jun 26 '16 at 12:59
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    @Patrice You're assuming the OP is dangerous. Actually, safety-conscious (even fearful) drivers are much safer than cavalier, reckless ones. And the suggestion to get a bigger car may be helpful. Domestic pickups didn't make the list, but foreign SUVs and minivans often have had no fatalities in the past four years. – Aleksandr Dubinsky Jun 26 '16 at 14:29
  • @Aleksandr i am a careful, fearful driver. Op says himself "terrified". This is (to me at least),way more than "careful". But yeah, these cars caused no fatalities for the occupants,right? Not necessarily CAUSED no casualties, or am i misunderstanding your stat? – Patrice Jun 26 '16 at 15:58
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    A bigger car might give you a better overview of the road which might help you feel more confident. – Sumyrda - Reinstate Monica Jun 27 '16 at 7:33
  • @Sumryda this is very car dependent, a bigger car also often means more dead spaces where you can overlook smaller traffic participants. That being said, if it makes the psychological difference between feeling terrified and being cautious, it's a good option. – Frank Hopkins Nov 15 '17 at 19:31

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