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How confident are you behind the wheel?

| Monday 3rd June 2019 12:00pm

Two women driving car

If you sometimes feel nervous while driving, youíre not alone. A survey of British motorists  carried out by the Telegraph and Aviva found that 23 per cent of those polled said they occasionally feel anxious behind the wheel.

While having too much confidence as a driver can cause its own problems, lacking self-assurance makes getting from A to B stressful and difficult - and if it affects your concentration and judgement, it can put you and other road users at increased risk.

What is a fear of driving?

Lots of people experience a degree of fear while driving. For some, anxiety is tied to very specific situations, such as suffering a loss of control or driving at high speeds, in difficult weather conditions or at night. Travelling in unfamiliar places can also trigger fear, as can driving alongside big vehicles like lorries or buses.

Other motorists have more generalised anxiety. For these people, any kind of journey can make them feel nervous. A fear of driving is more common among those whoíve recently passed their tests, but it can affect anyone. In some cases, anxiety develops after an accident or near miss, while for other people it arises unexpectedly with no obvious cause.

There are also a range of phobias that can make driving much more stressful. For example, dystychiphobia is a fear of accidents and it tends to make people try to avoid any situations that increase the risk of physical danger. Claustrophobia, the fear of enclosed spaces, can also impact on drivers because it can easily transfer to the prospect of being inside a car. And, while itís not common, some people are affected by hodophobia, which is a fear of travel.

Campaign aims to combat new driver nerves

Highlighting the fact that motorists who have recently passed their tests often feel particularly vulnerable, the UK governmentís designated road safety campaign THINK! recently launched an awareness-raising initiative aimed at helping new drivers to build their confidence.

The organisationís Road Whisperer campaign emphasises the point that confidence comes by building up real experience on the roads. Itís based on a series of videos and GIFs that feature a Jeff Bridges-style character complete with southern American drawl who gives new motorists tips to help them overcome the challenges of driving solo. Created in partnership with the marketing agency VMLY&R, the material has been shared online and in cinemas.

Commenting on the topic, road safety minister Jesse Norman said: ďConfidence comes with time and practice, so itís important to keep learning and build up experience to become a better driver.Ē

Tips to help you increase your confidence

Whether you feel nervous because you only recently passed your test, youíve taken a break from driving, youíve suffered a bad experience behind the wheel or for any other reason, there are steps you can take that may help you to combat your anxiety and become a better driver as a result.

Use green 'P' plates

Green ĎPí plates are used to show other motorists that youíve just passed your test and are therefore likely to be more cautious or hesitant. Putting them on your car can help to ensure that other road users behave more courteously towards you, allowing you to feel more relaxed. Bear in mind that you can leave these plates on for as long as you want, so they can still come in handy even if you passed your test a long time ago.

Book refresher lessons if you've not driven in a while

If you havenít driven for a long time, it might be a good idea to book yourself a few refresher lessons. These sessions can remind you how to cope with a variety of potentially stressful driving situations and give you a welcome confidence boost.

Don't put too much pressure on yourself

Try to avoid particularly difficult journeys while youíre building up your confidence. If you can, stick to quiet roads, and only drive in daylight and when the weather conditions are good. You might want to avoid taking passengers for a while too. This will help you to make sure you master the basic skills. You can then gradually build up to trickier journeys over time.

Make sure your car is safe

Carrying out car safety checks is an essential part of motoring for all drivers. Doing these checks can also help to give you added peace of mind when you climb into the driverís seat.

For example, itís important to make sure that your vehicleís tyres are up to scratch. Legally, car tyres in the UK must have a tread depth of at least 1.6mm - and safety experts generally recommend a depth of 3mm or more. Having tyres with a good level of tread will help you to keep control of your car by minimising your stopping distances and cutting the risk of skidding or aquaplaning. Make sure you keep your tyres pumped up to the correct pressure too, and watch out for signs of damage like cracks in the sidewalls. If the tread is getting low or you spot any damage, itís time to get replacement tyres.

Not being able to see clearly through your windscreen while driving can be terrifying. To ensure this doesnít happen to you, make sure you keep your windscreen wipers in good condition and replace them when necessary. Ensure your windscreen washer fluid levels are topped up at all times too.

For a full list of checks you can do at home, why not check out our pre-mot checklist.

Allow yourself to be cautious

As long as you stick to the rules of the road, there is nothing wrong with being a cautious driver. The presence of passengers in your car or other road users around you might make you feel under pressure to drive in certain ways (for example to go faster), but itís important to stick to what you feel comfortable with.

Many drivers experience anxiety, and this isnít something you should feel ashamed or embarrassed about. Whether itís taking refresher lessons or planning easy routes to build your confidence up, there are a variety of things you can do to overcome your nerves.

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