Conquering My Fear and Learning to Love Driving

I had been behind the wheel of a car no more than fifteen times when I got into my first accident.

I had gotten my learner’s permit a few months before and had finished Driver’s Ed. I graduated from doing circles around a train station parking lot close to my house, and was finally learning how to navigate roads with traffic lights. I was running an errand with my dad, and we were almost to our destination. Only a wide right turn onto a bridge over a small body of water separated us from where we needed to be.

I had misjudged the size of that wide turn and felt one of my tires hit the curb. Panicking, I turned the steering wheel to the left, but found myself dangerously close to the cars in the next lane over, waiting to make a left turn onto the road that I had just left. I overcorrected myself, this time veering too far to the right. The car crashed straight into the guardrail.

Time seemed to go more slowly in those few seconds leading up to the accident. I remember thinking; This is how I am going to die. I had firmly resolved that my car was going to break the guardrail and it was going to fall those few feet into the water below. I was just waiting for it to happen.

One distinct moment I remember leading up to the crash is seeing the face of a woman. She had outstretched her hands and stared at me with an irritated expression, as if I had gotten into an accident for the single purpose of disrupting her day. There was no way of explaining to her that I was a student driver, or that this was my first time making that wide turn onto the bridge.​I still thank my lucky stars and the makers behind guardrails everywhere that the car stayed safe above the water. Neither my dad nor me were hurt at all in the crash. The car’s airbags didn’t even deploy; it was a very low-threshold impact, probably because I wasn’t going very quickly.

After making sure that I was okay, my dad guided me into backing out from my position and turning into the nearest parking lot. He drove on the way home, and I cried silently.

Later, I found out that our auto insurance would pay for the damage done to the car. So, as far as crashes go, this was probably the best situation that I could have been in.

That being said, the crash left me completely afraid of driving. My parents had convinced me to take a few practice runs in the train station parking lot again, to get my confidence back. I had done fine there because there were no moving cars near me and no difficult turns for me to take. Once I had gotten back to real roads, however, I couldn’t calm my pulsing heart. A wave of anxiety rushed through me every time another car got too close to me. After a while, I quit driving altogether.

This was in my junior year of high school. I watched as more and more of my classmates got their driver’s licenses. By the time senior year rolled around, I was one of the only students in my grade without a license.

I became embarrassed when I had to ask my classmates for rides. I lived a good ten or twenty minutes away from the cluster of neighborhoods that housed my friends, and I was always afraid that I would be too much of a burden on them. But I was also embarrassed to show up somewhere stepping out of my mom’s minivan, and entirely dependent on a parent to pick me up from a social event. I definitely wasn’t a total recluse during my senior year, but I do think that if I had my driver’s license, I would have spent more time out with my friends than I actually did.

I was stuck, and I had no way of remedying this than changing my situation. I knew that I had to try driving again, and it was eventually that anger I held against myself that propelled me to do so.

Sure, I was scared to drive again. But my anger and my determination outweighed my fear. Of course, just because I forced myself to go behind the wheel again doesn’t mean that I didn’t experience anxiety the first few (hundred) times. And though I got more experienced at driving throughout my senior year, that of course does not mean that I passed my driving test the first time I took it.

I finally got my license with only a few days left of my senior year of high school.​Four years later, I brought a family car up to campus with me. This year marks the first time that I have actually enjoyed driving, as opposed to seeing it as something that I had to do in order to get around. I love the freedom of being able to roll into Mount Vernon whenever I want. I love taking trips to Columbus, and I even get pleasure out of doing things that some people might see as a chore, like pumping gas or picking up a friend from the airport.

Most of all, though, I have loved the drives to and from home. Those six-hour trips of blasting music and speeding down the highways have felt incredibly liberating. I have never felt more in control of my own destiny. I have learned to appreciate the romance of the open road. When I drive, I am in charge of where I go and when. Of course, I’ve never strayed from my course. I’ve always headed home or back to Kenyon. But the opportunity is still there.

When I look at how far I’ve come, from trembling at even the thought of sitting behind the wheel to driving for six hours at a time, I can’t help but feel a sense of accomplishment. I looked my fear in the face and said, “I’m going to conquer you, no matter what.”

Yes, it sucks that I got into such a scary accident one of my first times ever driving. But I am so proud of the fact that, though my anxieties stopped me for a little while, they didn’t stop me for long.


Image Credit: Carpe Juvenis, YouTube