by Sharlyn Petit
After your first close call, fender-bender, or totaled car, it’s common to feel nervous or fearful when driving. Maybe you keep replaying the event in your mind wondering how it ever happened in the first place.
You won’t find advice on driving after an accident in a textbook, and jumping back into the driver’s seat won’t happen overnight.
When I totaled my car, it took me months before I even wanted to drive – never mind the fact that I no longer had a car. Fortunately, I was uninjured, but for some who sustain injuries after a crash, post-traumatic feelings can affect daily life.
Here are six tips to get back on the road after your first accident:
- Stick to your routine. Driving from point A to point B, as a driver or passenger, might be more of a feat than you ever imagined, but stay involved in your day-to-day activities. Don’t abandon what’s familiar, and rely on your routine to get back to normal.
- Start slow. Get comfortable being a passenger first. Practice being calm and alert, and envision what actions you would take if you were the driver.
- Go on the defense. Once you’re back behind the wheel, drive extra cautiously! Leave more room to stop, scan your surroundings, and limit distractions in the car.
- Just breathe. It’s amazing what measured, deep breathing can do for nervousness. Count to three on a deep inhale and to three again on a deep exhale when you feel your anxiety mounting. Repeat 10 times. Feeling calmer?
- Be patient. This article by Psychology Today recommends a progressive approach to gain reassurance, which takes time. A driver may have to “start driving in a driveway before progressing to driving around the neighborhood, and then, finally, to driving on highways,” to discover that he or she is in control of the car.
- Ask for help. Feelings that are strong enough to affect how you think or act shouldn’t be ignored. If you have excessive worry, difficulty sleeping, or anxiety while being a passenger, a counseling referral may be your best move.
My first drive after totaling the family car was 3.2 miles to the grocery store – along the same road I crashed on nine months earlier. I remember one particular yield-then-turn-left move that almost launched me into hysterics. When I finally made it safely to an angled parking spot (farthest possible spot from the entrance), I could have used some measured breathing exercises.
I’m an anxious person by nature anyway, and sometimes I’m still overcome by waves of anxiety while driving. One time, I was stuck in traffic, gas tank “in the red,” and far from a gas station, and I had to pull over to let the wave pass. Let’s just say I stick with a quarter-tank minimum now.
It’s the deep breathing that keeps those feelings in check for me – along with some nonsensical conversations with drivers around me. Nothing angry, but more of a calming dialogue. After you, Mr. Camry … watch yourself, I’m coming through Miss Subaru….