A few points of concern about driving for an anxious person
June 13, 2015 3:27 PM   Subscribe

I struggle with anxiety and ocd and this can make it hard sometimes for me to tell the difference between safe and overly cautious driving. An outside perspective would be extremely helpful. And yes, I am receiving treatment for the aforementioned issues.

1) When turning left across traffic, how big a gap in oncoming traffic do you consider safe? I usually try for about 6 seconds. Is that too much? Too little? Lefts have become very stressful for me, especially when cars behind me start pressuring me to go. I don't want to go when it's not safe, but I don't want to be overly timid either.

2) What do you consider adequate clearance when passing a pedestrian? I see some cars cut it really close and others that swerve way out of the way. Whenever I'm passing a pedestrian exiting their car I always worry about them stepping back into my path of travel. The same goes for passing anything that is within the markings of the lane I'm in.

It's become very frustrating to the point that I really just want to move someplace where a car isn't necessary because of all the anxiety it causes me. Thanks very much in advance!
posted by theshire to Travel & Transportation (14 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: These questions are hard to answer over the internet because they are inherently judgement calls. Given the anxiety this causes you, maybe it would be worth it to schedule some time with a driving instructor to get some practice in these areas? Driving instructors are used to teaching nervous people and can help you explore situations like these in a safe way. If you need an hour or two making left turns with their guidance, that's totally doable. You could just explain that you already have your license, but would like some refresher training, and I'm sure you can find someone who would be happy to do a few hours worth of lessons.
posted by zachlipton at 3:41 PM on June 13, 2015 [8 favorites]

As a frequent pedestrian, it really freaks me out when cars cut really close to me (sometimes I'm unsure if they saw me at all), so please don't be that person, it can be so frightening.
posted by Aranquis at 3:48 PM on June 13, 2015 [5 favorites]

It sounds to me like you are an appropriately cautious driver. Many drivers are not nearly cautious enough considering the damage cars can do, but don't let their idiotic behaviour make you doubt yourself.

1) I'm not an especially anxious driver, but I avoid left turns when possible, especially at uncontrolled intersections, because I find them stressful and have trouble judging the speed of oncoming cars (but am also always worried about annoying people behind me). So I don't think this has much to do with anxiety/OCD. In our defence, UPS's policy for its drivers is to avoid left turns as much as possible (and its navigation software does so automatically) because they are dangerous and don't actually speed things up much.

2) As a frequent pedestrian and cyclist, I thank you. Don't change.
posted by Emanuel at 4:20 PM on June 13, 2015 [1 favorite]

IMO, you're doing everything correctly, as far as I can tell from text. My advice to you would be to learn to ignore the jerks behind you bugging you. There's always going to be someone who doesn't like your driving for some reason. That's their problem. Do your best to ignore the impatient jerks.

I do like the suggestion of a short refresher course with an instructor, though. Heck, maybe your insurance will lower your rate a bit because you took it.
posted by InsertNiftyNameHere at 4:23 PM on June 13, 2015 [1 favorite]

I usually try for about 6 seconds.

Try not to think about it in terms of time, because there are too many variables -- their speed, your acceleration speed, the size of street, how long the light has been green, etc.

You should think about it in terms of, if I go now, and go at a reasonable speed, will the other person need to slow down to maintain an appropriate distance?
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 4:46 PM on June 13, 2015 [6 favorites]

1) When turning left across traffic,

If this is a route you drive regularly, is there a reasonably easy way to just make three rights? I mean, why make yourself extra stressed if a minute or two longer route might be easier for you?
posted by Beti at 4:59 PM on June 13, 2015 [1 favorite]

Best answer: 1. I'm trying to visualize, and I think I probably figure 4-5 seconds, though my thought process is more like what Cool Papa Bell says: If I go now, and go at a reasonable speed, will the other person need to slow down? I consider myself a cautious driver (and other people have praised me as a safe driver, and I've never had any accidents other than the first month I had my license), but not a timid driver. My goal is to get in tune with the flow of traffic, such that I'm not cutting other people off/turning in front of them so that they have to hit their brakes, and that I'm not accelerating too much/following too closely so that I have to hit my brakes, unless there's an emergency.

2. California recently passed a three-feet rule for passing bikes, and I've been using that to gauge safe distance from pedestrians, too. It seems larger than most cars usually allow, and I'm ok with that. I do slow waaaaay down if it seems that a pedestrian is not paying attention to oncoming traffic, mainly because I don't want to hit them or their car door. I also know that pedestrians always have the right of way, despite most drivers not respecting that, so I defer to them more than most drivers seem to.

In general, I think it's helpful for me to realize that yes, I may be more cautious than most other drivers, and that's ok. If I'm slowing down, they can slow down. If I'm waiting for a car/pedestrian/bike/gap, they can wait. If I stop in the middle of the street because I don't think I have clearance between the parked cars and the other lane, they can wait until the other lane clears enough for me to proceed. It is not my fault if they are running late and trying to speed. It is not my fault if they are impatient. It is not my fault if they have better precision-driving skills than I do. My job is to pilot my car as safely as possible, within the laws.
posted by jaguar at 5:28 PM on June 13, 2015 [3 favorites]

I think you're driving safely. I'm a cautious driver too and people will pressure you to do things that are unsafe. Don't let them. If it helps, you can pretend that you have your dog or baby or other precious cargo in the car.
posted by HotToddy at 5:44 PM on June 13, 2015 [1 favorite]

Unprotected left turns still make me nervous; the only accident I've ever been in was from a driver who didn't see me while doing an unprotected left, and I hadn't been driving all that much at that point. One thing that helped me figure out left turns (specifically unprotected lefts) was to get a better sense of how long it took for me to complete the turn. Once I understood that, it helped me be more comfortable with them as I could better gauge how much space I'd need to leave for cross traffic going at the speed it typically does.

Also Nthing the advice to look for ways to avoid left turns; I'll routinely pick a route with right turns over unprotected left turns.
posted by Aleyn at 6:55 PM on June 13, 2015

I have in recent years mostly *slowed down* on the road, not always but a lot of the time. I don't run with the stereo turned to 11 near as much; that was almost a guarantee that I would drive aggressively, to the point of dangerously.

But I've slowed down. Just because the speed limit is 45 MPH does not mean I *have* to drive 45; it means that by law I am limited to that speed. Getting into the right hand lane and just booting slowly down the road is actually quite pleasant. Though if I am on a two lane I do feel more prone to drive at least very close to the speed limit if I am blocking someone behind me.

I learned from a real thoughtful instructor in a defensive driving course that if someone gets all over my tail and I cannot let them get by, and it would be dangerous for me to go faster, turning on the emergency flashers can snap the person behind me out of their "gotta go fast now" trance and get them to back off. It's not nearly as aggressive a move as slowing down down down while they go totally nuts behind me, fact is that it's not really aggressive at all, which is kindof the point.

I like the idea from upthread of maybe spending some time/money on the road with a qualified instructor, maybe watch how your friends drive and if one of them strikes you as sane and thoughtful you could ask them to ride with you. I'd be honored to help any friend who asked me anything of that nature.

Even the fact that you've posed this question here tells me you're really concerned about safety, your own and others. I bet you're a really good driver and going to become a great one.
posted by dancestoblue at 7:19 PM on June 13, 2015 [2 favorites]

Something I've noticed is that there are a lot more annoying aggressive drivers than annoying cautious ones. Being overly-cautious is dangerous, but being aggressive is much more so.

Err on the side of caution and try not to let the cars behind you pressure you too much. It's better to inconvenience a few people slightly than cause a traffic accident and cause a major inconvenience (or actual harm to happen to people).

(In general, I only make lefts if I feel like I can do so without slamming on the gas. Accelerating, yes, but shouldn't be in panic mode.)
posted by vixsomnis at 7:46 PM on June 13, 2015 [1 favorite]

I totally get you on feeling pressured by other drivers to do make turns/pull out (I'm in the UK, and busy roundabouts are the worst for this) on their schedule rather than mine. Sometimes I get anxious about this to the point that I start inventing elaborate scenarios about the terrible assumptions they're making about me as a person based on my driving (or, if I think I've cut someone up or pulled out in front of them too quickly, that they're going to follow me home and berate me - doesn't help that my mother once did this to someone who pulled out in front of her, so it exists in my head as "something people might do", though I also appreciate as an adult that she was kind of deranged for doing it, not to mention in a lot of other ways).

Objective measures of what's safe and what's not don't really help, as it's all so relative to road conditions. The only thing that helps me is keeping in mind the following, like a mantra: the only person who is qualified to decide what is safe for me to do in any given situation is me. If anyone else on the road has a problem with that, that is their problem to deal with and not mine. If I let other people influence my behaviour and end up do something that I wouldn't have done by choice because it didn't feel safe, I am making the road less safe for everyone, especially myself.

Driving is the most dangerous thing that most people do every day, and only you are equipped to know what makes you feel safe and what doesn't. It's not especially a social interaction - you don't need to care what other people think of you or want you to do. It's a potentially hazardous activity, and you should be looking out for yourself and vulnerable road users (pedestrians and cyclists) first, and the wants and needs of other drivers second or even further than that down the list, as long as you're trying to drive safe overall. The main thing you owe them - and especially yourself - is not turning quickly or whatever, but doing your best to keep the overall road situation safe.
posted by terretu at 4:06 AM on June 14, 2015 [4 favorites]

A TV commercial in England some years ago encouraged drivers to treat a cyclist "like a small car" in terms of how much room to give them, and also to slow down because the faster you're going, the more you create a breeze that could tip them over.

I try to give pedestrians the same amount of clearance.
posted by tel3path at 6:40 AM on June 14, 2015 [1 favorite]

Yep, you should treat pedestrians and cyclists in your lane exactly like another car. So if you're overtaking, you move right out into the other lane to do so. If you can't do that, you wait until you can and the people behind you can take a jump. You don't want to be a dick to the pedestrian just because the guy behind is being a dick to you.

The left hand turn thing is much harder to judge because it depends on the speed of traffic and size of the junction. Again though, you are the one making the turn, and if the people behind you aren't happy that's their problem not yours.
posted by tinkletown at 7:58 AM on June 14, 2015

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