A new Massey University study has revealed more than two-thirds of Kiwi drivers experience mild to severe anxiety when they get behind the wheel.
The study, The extent and characteristics of driver anxiety, was published yesterday in the Transportation Research online journal and is the first reported study of Kiwi driver anxiety.
Psychologist Dr Joanne Taylor, a specialist in driver behaviour, found a fear of road rage from other drivers was a key factor behind the anxiety and that people were most nervous about having a crash or dying.
Taylor found many anxious drivers had never sought help, revealing a need for greater availability of online self-help programmes.
Of the 441 people who responded to a survey sent to a random sample of 1500 adults registered to vote, 52 per cent reported mild anxiety and 16 per cent felt moderate to severe driving anxiety.
Just under a third – 31 per cent – said they experienced no driving anxiety.
Participants, aged 18 to 87, were asked about their driving histories, including when and how they learnt to drive; how far they drove each week and whether they were currently driving.
They were also asked to rate their anxiety levels about being on the receiving end of road rage, and their feelings of safety when driving.
Having a car crash and dying, and concerns about the safety of other people's driving ability were the greatest fears of those who considered themselves to be anxious drivers, according to a previous study.
Those who learned to drive later in life were also more prone to experiencing driver anxiety.
Taylor was surprised at the "high level of driving anxiety" in New Zealand that her survey exposed.
She said she was also concerned at finding that few people seek help in overcoming it – as driving anxiety can have a major impact on people's lives, preventing people from being able to drive to work or visit whanau and other activities.
Taylor said anxiety can also lead to exaggerated safety behaviour – such as slow driving and uncertainty when changing lanes – which may create further dangers on the road.
She said anxiety about driving was "very treatable" - and she would like to see more availability of online self-help programmes to address the issue.
She suspected most people did not seek help to deal with driving anxiety because of the same stigma and discrimination feared by those with mental distress.
Taylor, whose 2002 PhD was on understanding driving-related fear, has been researching the psychology of driving behaviour for a number of years.
As well as conducting studies and surveys on driving behaviour, including driving anxiety, she is also interested in issues such as driving anger.
Her research programme is said to have "advanced understandings of the prevalence of driving anxiety" and has "expanded awareness that driving anxiety is a complex phenomenon that is not confined to the post-motor vehicle accident experience".