Traumatic events often condition victims to avoid factors associated with that trauma. In many cases, the avoidance is irrational or impractical; some trauma victims subconsciously exaggerate the likelihood of a particular risk and avoid normally safe activities. In some cases, victims of automobile accidents who are seriously injured or who witness another person being seriously injured or killed will experience this fear. Fortunately, there are several things that such victims can do to overcome that fear.
1) Keep Perspective
First and foremost, victims should keep perspective. Serious motor vehicle collisions are a rarity for safe drivers; according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, there were 1.1 vehicle fatalities per 100 million vehicle miles traveled in 2011. This includes accidents with multiple fatalities and pedestrians who stumble into the roadway while drunk, making such accidents even more rare.
After recovery of any possible injuries sustained in your accident and handling the legalities with an experienced lawyer in regards to your accident, getting on the road again is a must. Nobody expects to be in an accident. Accidents are, by definition, accidental. To help keep perspective, think of how many miles you drove and how rarely collisions happened to you before the accident.
Always remember that a single incident does not make future incidents more likely. If the serious accident was caused by your drinking habits, your tendency to text while driving, or you performing some other reckless behavior behind the wheel, discontinue that behavior immediately. The accident did not occur because you were singled out for any reason; it was an unfortunate and random occurrence. Take what lessons you can from it and move on.
2) Take Small Steps
Easing back into the driver’s seat will usually be more comfortable than leaping back into it. If you find the thought of getting behind the wheel at all to be stressful, find a closed course or an empty parking lot and resume basic maneuvers. This will help disassociate the stress from the actions of sitting behind the wheel and manipulating the vehicle’s controls. It will also allow you to practice driving near fixed objects, such as lampposts and curbs, without worrying about traffic.
Once you are comfortable maneuvering a vehicle around an empty area, you should begin driving on residential streets. Residential streets have little traffic during the day and lower speed limits relative to commercial areas. Even if a collision were to occur, it would most likely not result in any serious injury on your part.
Drive around your block a few times and in other areas with which you are very familiar. If another vehicle pulls up behind you and attempts to drive aggressively, pull over to the side of the road and let him or her by. Repeat this until you are comfortable with driving at low speeds on public roads with a low population density.
When you are comfortable with driving in residential areas, resume short trips in industrial or commercial areas during daylight hours. The goal here should be to become accustomed to navigating traffic without becoming stressed.
Practice driving into and out of parking lots and making turns at intersections, as this will help you focus on developing your skills at perceiving traffic, identifying gaps, and applying the correct inputs to the vehicle to merge onto the roadway.
Eventually, you will be ready for night driving and freeway driving. The fear will eventually fade with experience. The key points are to eliminate the stresses of driving, recognize that safe drivers are the norm rather than the exception, and practice the basics of driving safely. Never go faster than you are comfortable and feel free to take your time.
3) Practice Safe Habits
Safer drivers have far fewer collisions than drivers who drive carelessly. By practicing safe habits, you will significantly reduce the probability that you will be involved in a collision. When practicing your habits in areas with low traffic, practice braking smoothly, leaving safe distances, and ensure that you are driving defensively.
Defensive driving skills require drivers to recognize potential threats and prepare accordingly. This is one area in which fear and cynicism can actually help you.
Do not drive in other drivers’ blind spots because they may not see you.
Try to look through the windshield of the car in front of you to determine whether traffic will be stopped ahead; recognizing such a situation in advance will help you avoid a situation in which you may need to brake suddenly.
Identify drivers who quickly speed up, slow down or weave, as it is likely that they will need to change lanes or turn off very soon.
Practicing safe habits may include factors associated with the vehicle. Some vehicles are naturally safer than others. If you find driving your older car to be stressful, driving a car with airbags for your chest, hips, head and knees in addition to lane departure warnings and collision avoidance systems may be more comfortable.
Do not simply buy a larger vehicle. Larger vehicles may be safer in collisions between multiple vehicles, but they are no safer in collisions with stationary objects. Additionally, they are often more difficult to control in tight spaces and when making evasive maneuvers.
4) Avoid Driving When Stressed
Stress is healthy in small doses, but unhealthy in large doses. Vigilance can help drivers recognize a potentially dangerous situation and help them give it a wide berth. Paranoia can make drivers fixate on one particular threat, which may or may not be significant, rather than scanning the road for other threats. Fixating on a tailgater can cause people to miss an approaching stop sign and vice versa.
Managing your stress levels is important to developing comfortable and safe driving habits. If you feel that you are becoming too stressed, do not be afraid to pull over the vehicle or turn off into a parking lot and stop. Take a moment to calm yourself with a few simple breathing exercises.
One common exercise is to intake one’s breath for four seconds, hold it for four seconds, and exhale slowly over a period of four seconds. If you are stressed, this will usually reduce your heart rate and decrease your stress levels. If breathing exercises do not work, feel free to leave the vehicle in a parking space or other safe area and take a brief walk around the block to clear your head.
After slowly recovering your driving skills, honing your defensive driving skills, and managing your stress levels, you should be an even safer driver than you were before the accident. If it all proves to be just too much stress, you may wish to consider discussing the issue with a certified psychologist or psychiatrist. If you simply find yourself wondering whether your habits are safe, you may benefit from formal instruction. Do not rush yourself and, eventually, you will overcome your fear and you will be back on the roads.
Harshbarger Law understands the fear that can accompany getting behind the wheel following a serious car accident, and the emotional trauma that seems to not go away. We can help represent and manage a claim for a client who has been involved in an auto accident; allowing the client to focus on the recovery process and getting behind the wheel again.