Many people suffer lingering effects after a car accident, but did you know these effects can be mental as well as physical?
Sometimes these mental issues can interfere with your life. One of the most common is vehophobia.
Vehophobia is the word for being afraid to get back behind the wheel after a car accident. A related fear is amaxophobia, which is the fear of riding in a car.
It is normal to experience some anxiety about driving after a wreck, especially if you or somebody else was hurt. However, sometimes vehophobia can become chronic and even debilitating. You may find you are to drive to work or school and otherwise restricted from a normal life because of your fears.
In some cases, vehophobia can also be triggered by witnessing a bad accident, reading about a bad accident, or by exposure to others who are unusually anxious.
What Are the Symptoms of Post-Accident Vehophobia?
Symptoms are highly variable and can sometimes be mistaken for a physical issue. They include:
- Increased heart rate and hyperventilation when in a vehicle or approaching one.
- Shaking and trembling.
- Freezing up when behind the wheel.
- Panic attacks while driving.
- Hypervigilance, especially in locations close to the accident.
- Fear of losing control.
- Fear of harming somebody else while driving.
- Nightmares about the accident.
- Intrusive thoughts about the accident.
- Phantom brake syndrome, when you are a passenger and keep trying to put your foot on the brake.
- Avoiding driving on highways, roads that appear less safe, or past the site of the accident.
- Avoiding driving altogether.
Post-accident vehophobia is sometimes classed as a form of PTSD, especially if it involves nightmares or intrusive thoughts. Without treatment, the fears can remain long-term and even become permanent. The ability to drive is vital in many areas, so addressing vehophobia is very important.
How is Vehophobia Treated?
First of all, if you have vehophobia, you should talk to your doctor, who will give you a referral to a psychologist or psychiatrist. There is no shame in suffering from vehophobia. It is not weakness or lack of willpower but essentially an injury to your brain. The stigma against mental illness causes many people to avoid treatment and potentially develop worse long-term programs.
Your psychiatrist will work with you on a course of treatment, which might include any or all of the following:
Cognitive behavioral therapy
CBT is a form of talk therapy that teaches you to reframe your reactions to a stimulus to slowly become more positive. A therapist will work with you on ways to do so.
By reframing thoughts from “I don’t want to get into another accident” to “I am in control,” you can take control of the phobia and get your life back. This is the go-to therapy for many things but is particularly good for anxiety.
Prolonged exposure therapy
Your therapist may also decide to use prolonged exposure therapy, which is a treatment for phobias. The therapy starts with you imagining driving and visualizing it in a safe space, usually your home. Then you move on to going to the car, starting the engine, driving, and so on.
The point of exposure therapy is to retrain your brain to believe that the thing you are doing is safe. Afterward, you will talk to your therapist about your feelings and experiences. Eventually, you may work on specific triggers, including driving past the site of the accident.
Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR)
EMDR requires an expert clinician familiar with this kind of therapy but can be very effective for dealing with traumatic memories from car accidents.
During the therapy, you will focus on the disturbing material in brief doses while also observing an external stimulus, which is typically eye movement but can be hand tapping or audio stimulation, depending on which works best for you. This forms new associations between the traumatic memory and better information and helps your mind heal faster.
Some people respond particularly well to hypnotherapy, although it should be used as an adjunct to other therapies. The trained hypnotherapist will guide you through your thoughts while in a state of relaxation, helping you deal with thoughts and memories without being overcome by the associated emotions.
While therapy is the best treatment for vehophobia, some people benefit from medication, especially if the anxiety is extreme or infrequent. Commonly prescribed classes of drugs include:
- Sedatives. These are typically only used when somebody is unable to ride in a vehicle, as they can cause drowsiness and may make you unsafe to drive.
- Beta-blockers. Beta-blockers block the stimulating effects of adrenaline and reduce the physical symptoms of anxiety, such as shaking. This may make driving easier and safer while you learn to deal with the actual anxiety. Beta-blockers are used only on an as-needed basis.
- Antidepressants, especially if the accident was associated with a loss that could cause depression.
- Anti-anxiety medication.
Medication is rarely used on its own, and most people with vehophobia don’t need it, but it can help in some cases.
Defensive driving instruction
Many people with vehophobia benefit from increased confidence behind the wheel and improving their skills, so they feel and are less likely to get into an accident.
Taking a defensive driving course can help your recovery. This is an advanced driver’s ed course where you are taught improved skills and strategies to help you react to and avoid various situations and keep yourself and other drivers safe. It’s good for anyone who drives a lot to take one of these courses. Still, if you are afraid of driving after an accident, even if it’s not enough to warrant therapy, you can benefit from the improved skills and confidence it will give you.
Some insurance companies will reduce your premiums if you have taken a defensive driving course.
If You Suffer From Vehophobia, You May Be Entitled to Compensation
You may be entitled to compensation for vehophobia, just as with a physical injury. If your vehophobia is causing you to lose income and opportunities and affecting your relationships, then you may be able to get damages or make a claim on your insurance.
If this is the case, you need an experienced injury attorney. Stevenson Klotz Injury Lawyers in Florida and Alabama can help you get the compensation you deserve and have your issues treated seriously and respectfully. Contact our office today to find out how we can help you.
Can only the person driving get vehophobia?
No! Vehophobia can be triggered by being in an accident as a passenger, witnessing an accident, or by being exposed to the anxieties of others. If you were the passenger in an accident and now have vehophobia, you may be able to get compensation.
How can I get my confidence back to drive?
Taking a defensive driving course is a great way to get your confidence on the road back after an accident. This will teach you how to better handle and react to various situations.