Having a fear of expressway driving isn’t exactly the easiest phobia to cure. If you have a fear of expressway driving, it has most certainly had a negative impact on your life. To make matters worse, being a nervous driver is dangerous! You are far more likely to be involved in a major accident if you are a tense and nervous driver. Teaching yourself how to relax during stressful driving conditions is crucial.
In this article, I’ll try to help you become a more relaxed and confident driver on the roadways. I will also attempt to give you some pointers on how to relax while you’re driving on the expressway. As a certified driving instructor and former long-haul truck driver, I have quite a bit of experience driving on the expressway in all sorts of stressful conditions.
Here is a pretty cool video talking about driving fears and how to deal with it.
Dealing With Aggressive Drivers On The Expressways
It’s really no secret that aggressive driving is prevalent on expressways, especially during rush hour near major cities. If you have a fear of driving on the expressway, you are likely a huge target for these aggressive drivers. Your timidness will show through in your driving behavior which these aggressive drivers pick up on. In turn, they might cut you off, tailgate, honk their horn, flip you the bird, or otherwise take out their aggression on you.
So, the first rule to overcoming your fear of driving on the expressway is to stop giving a shit about what those assholes think. Aggressive drivers are usually aggressive due to shortcomings in their own lives. Maybe they are late for work or maybe they are blowing off steam because they hate their job or got into a fight with their spouse.
And some people… well… some people are just assholes.
As a former trucker, I was frequently the target of these aggressive drivers. I was big, slow, and people generally hate driving around trucks. The key is to just not care. In 10 seconds they will be out of your life anyway. Even as the best driver in the world, you can’t get away from the assholes out there. If you’re driving in a safe manner that doesn’t put your life or other peoples lives at risk, than don’t worry about it. The angry person in the BMW will forget about you in 30 seconds because they will likely be mad at someone else by then. Just relax and be happy you’re not as miserable as them.
Becoming Comfortable With Merging
If you have a fear of expressway driving, you probably SUCK at merging. Don’t worry, you’re not alone. In my experience as a truck driver, I’d say a good 60% of drivers out there don’t know how to properly merge. Now, there are two different situations we need to talk about here… you doing the merging and when other traffic is merging.
When you are merging onto the expressway, the most important thing to remember is that YOU need to adjust YOUR speed to the traffic you are merging into. As soon as you possibly can (even at the top of the on-ramp), judge what the traffic is like on the expressway. If they are going highway speeds, you know you need to be at this speed before you merge. The tricky part here is you need to keep an eye on what is in front of you and behind you at the same time. This makes merging a scary experience for many and does increase the risk factor. That’s why it’s so important to check your mirrors and the lane you’re merging into as early as possible. I can’t tell you how many people would ride right next to my truck, without even looking until the end of the ramp, at which point, they would be forced onto the shoulder. Look early, find a hole, and match YOUR speed so you can fit. Oh, and for goodness sake, NEVER stop on the on-ramp unless there is a stop sign or stop light. If you need to, use the shoulder of the road until you can merge in, but do not stop at the end of the ramp, ever.
When you are on the expressway and traffic is merging into your lane, make sure you make a decision early. If there are a lot of vehicles merging at the same time, the best option may be to change lanes. If this is not possible, you should “find a hole” and commit. In other words, find two vehicles that you can “fit” yourself between. With this said, remember that it is their responsibility to match their speed to yours. If they aren’t paying attention, do whatever you can safely do to keep a space open for them. Yes, you have to accommodate their poor driving, but sometimes that’s what we need to do as drivers.
Driving At High Speeds On The Expressway
Believe it or not, driving at high speeds on the expressway is actually one of the safest forms of driving (as compared to rural or city driving). If you are a nervous driver on the expressway, the #1 mistake you likely make is not looking far enough down the road. Drivers who are tense tend to look very closely in front of their vehicle. This can cause a multitude of problems. When driving at high speeds, you need to constantly be scanning as far ahead as possible as well as scanning closer to your vehicle to check for road debris. You should also be scanning the shoulder of the roadway for abandoned vehicles, construction vehicles, and emergency vehicles. If possible, move over to avoid any possible issues.
Also remember to keep a loose grip on the steering wheel. Those who are nervous while driving on the expressway tend to be very tense and grip the wheel tightly. Just loosen your grip and try to relax. Driving in a heightened state of anxiety will cause fatigue and will cause you to make more driving errors.
Dealing With Adverse Weather On The Expressways
During dry conditions, driving on the expressway is actually quite safe most of the time. However, adverse weather conditions can change that in a hurry. Here are some safety tips to remember when driving in adverse weather.
Driving In Rain – By far, the worst accidents I saw as a truck driver was in raining conditions. People generally become very relaxed driving in the rain. After all, it’s not snow or ice! In my experience, people hardly slow down at all when it’s raining. The problem is, that rain can puddle in places and cause a vehicle to hydroplane and lose control. So, always remember to slow down in the rain and be especially careful near bridges, overpasses, tunnels, dips in the roadway, and construction areas, as those places tend to pool with water quickly. If you can avoid driving on the expressway during heavy rain events, it’s a good idea as your risk of collision goes up significantly (although this is the case on all roadways). For more advice on how to drive in the rain safely, check out this article.
Driving In Snow – Driving in snow on the expressway can be very dangerous, but for many people who live in northern areas, driving in the snow is something that must be done. In addition to the obvious tips such as slowing down and increasing your following distance, you really need to focus on looking ahead and keeping a lose grip on the steering wheel. Remember, as a nervous driver on the expressway, your natural instinct is to look close in front of you and grip the steering wheel tightly. By not looking far enough ahead, you will react late to potential hazards. By gripping the wheel tightly, you will be more tense and make more sudden / jerky movements, both of which can get you into trouble. So just take a few deep breaths, loosen your grip, and keep looking around and getting the big picture. Here are some more tips about driving in snow.
Driving During Icy Conditions – Make no mistake, driving in icy conditions is EXTREMELY DANGEROUS. If you are driving during icy conditions, you should be nervous. If there is any possible way to avoid driving during icy conditions, take those precautions. Ask if you can telecommute to work or postpone a meeting if you have one scheduled. Do whatever you possibly can. As a truck driver, I refused to drive during icy conditions, but I’d often see the aftermath. It’s not pretty. While you can follow the same safety advice as driving in snow, there really is no safe way to drive on ice. If you do, you are taking a huge risk. Here are some additional tips if you do find yourself driving during icy conditions.
Additional Weather Conditions – There are many additional adverse weather conditions you could face when driving on the expressway. Sometimes these conditions come up without any prior warning, so you should become familiar with how to drive in the different adverse weather conditions here.
It’s Ok To Be Nervous, But You Must Manage It
I used to teach new truck drivers how to drive a big 18-wheeler for the first time in their lives. Some of them would be so nervous the first time driving they would be shaking. In fact, the first time I drove a big rig I was terrified! There were also times during my trucking career when I’d find myself in very tense conditions. Driving in a mountain during a sudden and unexpected blizzard, driving through downtown NYC in a huge truck, going through construction zones with lanes only inches wider than my truck… you name it and I’ve probably experienced it.
The thing is this… It’s ok to be nervous while you’re driving! The fact is, driving is one of the most dangerous activities we partake in on a regular basis, so being nervous is totally understandable (especially on an expressway where speeds can reach 70mph or more). I’m not here to tell you or teach you how to not be nervous while driving, because quite frankly, being nervous is a good thing. However, you must learn how to MANAGE those nervous feelings.
In order to manage your nerves, you need to recognize the symptoms of being a nervous driver. The main symptoms are:
- Being Too Tense: Most nervous drivers tend to tense up, grip the wheel tight, lock their arms, have a tight head position, etc. If you find yourself getting nervous behind the wheel, remember to take a deep breath and relax your body.
- Having Tunnel Vision: Tense drivers tend to have tunnel vision. They will focus directly on the vehicle in front of them or on the roadway right in front of them. Tense drivers usually do this without realizing it themselves. So, if you find yourself getting nervous behind the wheel, remember to scan with your eyes. Look as far down the roadway as possible, then check your mirrors, then scan closer to your vehicle, then check your mirrors again, then scan far down the roadway again, etc. Keep those eyes moving and avoid getting fixated.
- Indecisiveness: When you are nervous, you will second guess yourself. You may go to change lanes, then decide against it. Or you might get in one lane, then decide right away you should have stayed in the lane you were in. This can cause some very dangerous driving on your part by confusing drivers around you. If you’re going to do something, commit and do it. If you find yourself being indecisive and causing hazardous conditions by making unusual maneuvers, it might be time to pull off and take a break to clear your head.
- Driving Too Fast Or Too Slow: A nervous driver on the expressway is more likely to drive too slow than too fast. Remember, on the expressway, everyone is safer when traffic is all flowing at about the same speed. I’m not saying you should break any speed limit laws, but you should be driving as close to the flow of traffic as possible. Make sure you choose the proper lane as well. If you’re the slowest vehicle around, you should be in the far right lane (of course, you’ll have to deal with merging traffic in the right lane). If you’re going about average, you should be in one of the middle lanes. The far left lane should only be used for passing, including if only 2 lanes are available.
You will likely have your own unique symptoms of nervousness as well. So, when you find yourself getting nervous behind the wheel, try to recognize how you are acting and portraying that nervousness. Remember, it’s ok to be nervous, but you must manage your behavior. Breath, relax, keep your eyes moving, and know when it’s time to take a break.
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