According to experts, this is a common phobia. "A typical patient is a healthy 25-year-old woman who's convinced she's going to have a heart attack behind the wheel, or is going to veer off a bridge," says Jerilyn Ross, director of the Ross Center for Anxiety & Related Disorders in Washington, D.C., and author of One Less Thing to Worry About. "The person is aware that the panic is irrational but is powerless to control it."
Ross is careful to distinguish driving phobia from post-traumatic stress disorder resulting from an auto accident or the loss of a loved one in a crash. To overcome a phobia, many people need fewer than a dozen sessions of cognitive behavioral therapy—during which they learn techniques to identify and challenge the negative thoughts, along with relaxing breathing exercises. The therapist might also ride with white-knuckle drivers through stressful situations until the phobia gradually dispels. "I'll take people who haven't driven in 15 years, and within five or six sessions they're out on the highway," Ross says.