Thursday, 23 February 2017

Car Technology for Fear of Driving and Anxious Drivers - How to try to overcome fear of driving... again

Car Technology for Fear of Driving and Anxious Drivers - How to try to overcome fear of driving... again

A post about car gadgetry rather than kitchen gadgetry? As some of you know, car technology has played a huge part in my life in the last year. I am driving again. Me, the girl with a fear of driving (I don't know why I don't quite like to call it a driving phobia).

I heard my husband tell someone the other day that I was a “nervous driver”. It made me giggle as I really don't consider myself a nervous driver, I have a fear of driving. Two very different things, in my case (or in my mind). But I may adopt the "nervous driver" description as, if I start saying I am a nervous driver I may not feel I have to explain much else. Whereas with fear of driving I feel like I have to justify where that fear comes from, why I have a fear of driving, which leads to a very long explanation.

I have had a fear of driving for over 20 years. When you have chronic pain directly related to how 
you acquired that fear of driving, it’s very difficult to shake it off. I hadn't blogged about my fear of driving for a while, I have in the past though and you can find previous posts and the explanation of the reason why here.

Fear of driving is very common. It is estimated that millions of drivers suffer from driving anxiety. For some of us it's quite strong and we can easily put off driving for months, years, decades but I have to admit, after what has been my longest driving spell in a couple of decades, I can tell you this: modern cars can bring a lot of peace of mind if your fear of driving brings a lot of anxiety to the driver’s seat. From worrying about not being able to find the right controls to fretting about taking one hands off the wheel in the first place. 

If you're reading this, chances are that you too have a fear of driving or are an anxious driver so you probably know already how exhausting it can be to drive despite that. The levels of anxiety spiral out of control. 

This post about car technology is just one half of my get-back-to-driving- journey in 2016. As you can imagine, the other half is way harder to write about and so I will do that in a different post when I'm ready.

In the meantime, please feel free to share any experiences, achievements and failures of your own. You are not alone. There are a lot of us out there who totally understand what you're going through. And that word "failure" is just another step on our road, failure is only negative if we let it be. From failure comes determination to succeed and so it's just a little bump on our road to success, driving success in this case.

Ready to read about the car technology that helped me drive again? 
Back in July 2016, at the beginning of my driving attempt number a zillion, I practiced the school run during one of the summer clubs the little Tapita attended at her own school. Only a fraction of the parents were dropping off and picking up which meant I could practice for September, when I would be doing it daily. 

One of the mums from school saw me in the car and exclaimed: “You’re driving!”. Until then I had kept it very much to myself, less pressure that way. I remembered that this particular school mum had a huge fear of spiders so I described it as knowing I had a date with a massive black spider and I knew exactly the time I was going to encounter that enormous scary spider, several times a day. 

Now, looking back, I admit that that huge scary spider actually has played a part in getting me to drive again. But that only happened once I controlled both the car and the fear rather than letting both control me. 

Our car's technology has given me peace of mind and more "space" to do what I need to do: have my full attention on the road rather than on my anxiety so that I can drive again, every day.

So, after chatting to some of you, I thought I’d compile, for your reference and mine, since we’re now looking at replacing our car (I type that without hyperventilating *much* and having test driven the potential new car twice now), the features that mean I trust our car which means I trust myself to drive again, daily. 

I can't stress enough how important these features are to me so, if you have any questions whatsoever, please ask as they could help you too and I would love to hear from you.

I may only drive around town, I may have a bit of a comfort zone but my driving is way better than it was just a year ago. Because a year ago, I wasn’t driving, I was walking everywhere and making my fibromyalgia way worse in the process. This isn't about driving skill (my driving skills have always been there), it's about the actual driving. So, just driving around town is not a failure, it's a success, in fact it's a massive success! I'm driving and I'm confident in my driving around town. Full stop.

Here's the car technology that has helped me overcome my fear of driving enough to drive daily:

The car

I should start by specifying that our current car is an Audi A3. It was the first brand new car we ever owned (both of us were already over 40 then) so you’ll probably chuckle when I tell you that, with the excitement of picking it up back in 2013, we drove to Saffron Walden, forgot that there (unlike Ely) you have to pay for parking and we got back to the car park after lunch at Cafe Cou Cou to find our brand new car sporting its very first fine. 

The technology 

The most important bit of technology for me is that our car is an AUTOMATIC. I do not tend to use capital letters that much but I can’t stress enough how important this has been for my anxieties at the wheel. 

The car changes gears automatically. Not having to reach for the gear stick to change gears while driving is super important to me as it means ALL my attention can be on the road and what is happening around me. Both my hands can be exactly where I need them to be: on the steering wheel. My right foot in use on the pedals (only two pedals as opposed to the three pedals in manual cars). My left foot can relax as it has absolutely nothing to do. My hands only have to find the indicator every once in a while.

In an attempt to get me to drive it, we filled our current car with safety technology. Then the first day I drove our brand new car back in 2013 I almost ate the garage, I freaked out, let my fear of driving set in, anxiety took hold of me and I didn’t drive it again until Spring 2016, almost three years later.

In my defence, our previous car (a semi automatic Toyota Auris) hardly went anywhere when I accelerated, the A3 however is a proper (and very smooth) automatic and it starts moving the moment you lift your foot off the break (and man does that car go!) which brings me to one of my favourite bits of tech for fear of driving which is now always on in our car (just a shame it wasn't that first day I tried to drive it!):

Hill Hold Assist / Audi Hold Assist: Car Technology for Fear of Driving and Anxious Drivers - How to try to overcome fear of driving... again
See that P all lit up? That's the Hill Hold Assist P, permanently on in our car so no need to touch this button, ever

Hill Hold Assist / Audi Hold Assist

You’ll find the technical description here but the fear of driving description is: automatic cars have a drawback, they start moving the moment you lift your foot off the brake which can get an anxious driver rather panicky as this happens before your foot even has a chance to move to the accelerator (which freaks me out). 

Audi's (Hill) Hold Assist, however, keeps the car stationary until your right foot starts pressing the accelerator. Priceless for me, interestingly it was one of the cheapest features we added to the car at about 75 quid.

Let me give you an example: when you get to a traffic light, you press the brake until the car is stationary, the automatic handbrake is applied without you doing a thing, a little light with a green (P) shows on your dashboard to confirm this, your car is now being held in place. All you have to do to get it moving again is put your foot on the accelerator and, well, accelerate, which you would anyway. 

It couldn’t be simpler. 

Hill Hold Assist / Audi Hold Assist: Car Technology for Fear of Driving and Anxious Drivers - How to try to overcome fear of driving... again
The Audi Hold Assist (P) lit up in green on the dashboard. See? It's very easy to spot

Basically, you have to do NOTHING other than drive normally for the car to be held in place by Hill Hold Assist. I use this feature daily, it’s permanently on in our car (and it doesn't switch itself off when the car is switched off so there's no need to give it any thought). It gives me peace of mind. 

As the old name of this feature gives away, it’s especially handy on a hill but we don’t have many of those in the Fens. 

Yes, don't worry, it’s as easy to remember to brake, look out for the (P) on the dashboard (which you soon catch without even looking down) and then accelerate again. It becomes second nature once you've done it a few times.

If I can do it, you can too!

Pre Sense

Now, I can’t remember a single occasion when Pre Sense has had to activate for me but I do remember vividly that it once saved our lives. Basically, if your car senses an obstacle in front of you that could cause a collision when you’re driving and it also senses you’ve not started applying the brakes, it beeps and if you’re not quick enough, it applies the brakes for you. 

Let me give you a really important example for the Tapas family. Mr Tapas and I were once on our way to Cambridge down the A10. The traffic going into Ely was at a standstill for miles. The traffic going towards Cambridge was flowing nicely so husband was driving along when suddenly a car on the traffic-jammed lane decided to get out of its lane, invade ours and start driving towards us. I really do not know what on earth they were thinking. The car sensed this happen before my husband even had a chance to apply the brakes and it prevented what could have been a very nasty head-on collision for us. 

The car that day gained my trust. 

But what I didn’t mention is that Pre Sense includes pedestrian protection, if a pedestrian gets in your way, the car follows the same procedure and applies the brakes if it senses you’re not pressing the brake. If you have got your fear of driving like me, getting run over by a car, this feature is huge! Now, Pre-Sense in our car is only at the front, in the car we’re looking at now it can also be at the back! 

Park Assist with sensors front and back 

Beep beep beep. Boing boing boing. The car’s screen and the sounds the car makes alert me of obstacles when I’m parking or reversing. I find it really reliable and a huge peace of mind when reversing in car parks. It even lowers the radio volume if the radio is on. 

Automatic folding wing mirrors

Our A3’s wing mirrors fold when we lock the car with the key. It may sound like a really silly addition but, remember, I am the fibromialgic working mother of a lively six year old. Being able to walk away and then turn back quickly to double check I have locked the car is really reassuring. The folded mirrors reassure me. Not just that, when I am actually paying attention, the sound of the mirrors folding gives me peace of mind.

Car Technology for Fear of Driving and Anxious Drivers - How to try to overcome fear of driving... again
Automatic Head Lights. Always on Auto. Fog lights are easily activated with easy-to-find buttons

Light and Rain Sensors

Automatic headlights

This is as simple as one less thing to worry about! I get in the car day or night, the car does its thing. The fog lights are buttons so very easy to apply. 

Car Technology for Fear of Driving and Anxious Drivers - How to try to overcome fear of driving... again
Automatic Windscreen Wipers. Forget how confusing the control looks. Totally ignore it. Get someone to explain it to you first and play with them with the car stationary in a safe place. All you need to know is where the auto setting is and how to clean the front and rear windscreens. That's it.

Automatic windscreens wipers

Same as above. Last thing I wanted to do in the early days of trying to drive again was worry about rain. One of those very early days was a summer evening, just as I was about to set off for my all-on-my-own weekly Wednesday evening driving, a storm started. Thunder, lighting, the heaviest of rains. It was the worst timing. At that stage I hadn’t had to use the windscreen wipers at all.

I was about to decide to stay home instead when husband reminded me the windscreen wipers were automatic, he quickly showed me how they worked, I decided that, if I gave up this time I was bound to give up next time too, so I went for it and I was really glad I did. 

These last two features may sound gimmicky but I was always a summer driver. I always drove more during the summer because the weather and visibility were better and, once the weather got worse and the days drew shorter, I would invariably stop driving, letting fear set in for the winter. 

The automatic lights and windscreen wipers share the credit with my determination when it comes to keeping me driving through rain, fog and ice. It’s February right now and I have kept driving, this is a huge surprise for me.

Now for the technology I don’t have technical names for:

Our car will not let me take the key out unless the gear stick (remember it’s an automatic) is in the P position (P for Park). Now, when you’re a stressed working mother with a child at the back, fibromyalgia and a fear of driving, THIS gives me huge peace of mind that I’ve not forgotten to put the car on Park because in our car, once the car is on Park, I don't have to do anything else. The automatic parking brake does it's rather automated job.

The car tells me off if I try to drive without my seat belt being on. Now, I’m of the generation that learnt to drive following "the seat belt on first” rule (before you even switch the engine on) but you just have to re-read the above paragraph for reasons why I sometimes get flustered and may forget. It’s only happened a couple of times but those couple of occasions definitely built my trust in the car.

It detects if there are passengers at the back and tells me if they have their seat belts on.

It warns me about badly closed doors (now, this is basic on most cars nowadays but it wasn’t when I started driving a million years ago, not at all). 

Sticker on the fuel door: silly, isn’t it? But the inside of the fuel door has a sticker that reminds me what fuel the car needs. Refuelling makes me really nervous for some reason so this peace of mind is great. I stick to the same petrol station, Tesco, where I have my routine so that I don’t forget anything and try not to panic too much. 

This is a normal driving day for me now

Get in the car, use the lever to rise my seat if husband was the last one to use the car (we only have one car so we’re lucky we just need to adjust the seat height, everything else can stay the same). Key in ignition. Right foot on brake, turn key. Right foot on brake (the car reminds me to do this), gear stick to D (Drive) and, literally, drive with the foot on the accelerator. 

Accelerate, brake and indicate as necessary. 

Park. According to husband I have a signature way of parking: slanted (he *might* be right).

Arrive to destination. Foot on brake. Gear stick to P. Key out of ignition. Leave car. Lock car. Forget something in car. Unlock car. Close door. Lock car again.

No more excuses

Now, I can hear you working on your excuses all the way from here. Like "Well, we can’t afford a car like that”. Our car, with these extras, is about to go on the market as a well looked-after second hand car which means, if you ask around, there might be similar cars near you too! And, as I understand it, dealerships talk to each other looking for these features so, if you ask really nicely, they might find you a car with the right features for you to try. 

Another excuse I can hear you thinking: “we would have to do more than just adjust the car seat’s height, that’s going to be a pain”. You get used to it. Husband huffed and puffed a bit at first as I always forget to put the seat back down for him but really the fact that I’m driving beats the 2 seconds it takes to put the seat at the right height.

Oh and yes I can hear you thinking: "but my other half will not want an automatic!". My husband loves driving and adores our automatic car. In fact, I don't think he'll mind if I say that he doesn't miss manual cars at all. Our car has something called Adaptive Cruise Control. Now, it's not something I have used but he absolutely loves it on longer trips. Plus, if your partner wants you driving, then there have to be a middle ground. 

But of course it wasn’t all down to the car, the car did help me a lot but, at the end of the day, it was down to me to drive again. No one but me could sit on the driver’s seat and get me driving again (man how I wished at points there were other more magical alternatives).

It took weeks, months and it took a lot of determination and concentration… but, hand on heart, this has been my best go yet and I have high hopes that this is the attempt that will stick.

Of course I hyperventilated the first day I did the school run by car in September despite having driven our car for a few months by then, but the fact that I had been able to drive to the school (which is two miles away) and come back home with the little Tapita was a huge success. The doctor was right: driving has taken a lot of pressure off me, it has helped improve my health and the stress of how to fetch T each school day. At first it didn't take much of the exhaustion away really as driving can be exhausting but, as I now do it every day, it has got better and so has my fatigue.

I am working very hard on not letting anything put me off driving again. Before this, I had tried refresher lessons, the AA’s Drive Confident Course and even hypnotherapy. Nothing stuck until… come back soon to find out how I finally managed to drive on a daily basis... That is a much harder post to write but I really want to write it down because, if I ever fall off the driving wagon again, I want to be able to remember how to get back on it because now I know I can. In the meantime, the book How to Overcome Fear of Driving: The Road to Driving Confidence book by Joanne Mallon may help you get on the road to where I am now.

I would love to hear about YOUR fear of driving, how did it come about? Do you drive despite it? Or would you describe yourself as an anxious driver rather than having fear of driving? 

Have you beaten (or are in the middle of trying to beat) your fear of driving? Please tell us your story, share your achievements. 

Do you drive despite being an anxious driver? I'd love to hear from you.

Are there other car technology features that I haven't mentioned that help you drive, please share!

Don't forget, if you have any questions at all about this post, car techology for fear of driving, about overcoming your fear of driving, please just ask. 


PS-Apologies go to Audi in advance for my (aherm) super technical names for their superb features!

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