Driving is a dangerous activity requiring skill, mental focus, and judgment. However, extreme emotions interfere with this by distracting the mind. They impair clear thinking, quick decision-making, and judgment. Emotionally distracted people make mistakes such as locking themselves out of their homes and in cases of panic, failing to locate well-marked exits in burning buildings.
While responsible drivers avoid drinking, texting, cell phone use, and other well-known forms of distraction, few recognize the equally debilitating effects of their emotions. Severe anxiety is a common emotional problem that impairs driving yet gets little attention.
We live in a stressful world and anxiety is a natural response to this. However, it can reach excessive levels in some people to the point of becoming a disorder. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, 28.8 percent of the U.S. adult population have had an anxiety disorder at some point in their lifetime.
Normal anxiety occurs in response to a direct cause such as taking a test or going to a job interview. When the test or interview is over, the anxiety dissipates. However, this isn’t the case with people suffering from a disorder. These people suffer from irrational phobias or panic attacks that can unexpectedly occur in ordinary situations.
How Severe Anxiety Affects Driving
The highly anxious driver is wrapped up in his or her feelings of dread and apprehension to the point of its being all-encompassing. This leaves little focus to the driving at hand. These overwhelmed drivers may exhibit erratic driving such as making sudden lane changes or sudden braking for no apparent reason.
Other effects include:
- Loss of precision driving skills
- Impaired road awareness
- Feelings of detachment from the driving situation
- Impaired reaction time
- Loss of judgment resulting in dangerous maneuvers
People with an anxiety disorder should seek treatment. Those feeling highly stressed or overcome with worry should avoid driving in these states just as they would avoid driving while intoxicated. If an anxious state occurs while on the road, they should put on calming music, make the decision to put off the worry, and focus on their driving. At the next rest stop, they should pull over, park the car and wait until the state has passed.