Don’t panic! It’s only a motorway . . .

Driving on a busy motorway can be a daunting task for many motorists.

FOR an estimated 10-million drivers, simply venturing onto a  motorway can turn an every day journey into a nightmare.
More than one third of  drivers admit to regular feelings of anxiety when  driving, or even considering driving on motorways according to the results of a survey by the RAC Foundation undertaken as part of National  Motorway Month.
The survey also reveals that more than one in 10 drivers  become ‘extremely anxious’ and may even drive a significant distance out of  their way to avoid travelling on a  motorway. This means that  nearly 12 per cent of drivers are experiencing  anxiety levels more  significant than if they were attending job interviews,  visiting the dentist or going  on a first date.
The fear of motorways is  known as Motorway Anxiety  Disorder or MAD.
Symptoms of MAD include:

  • Raised heart rate
  • Raised blood pressure
  • Excess sweating,  particularly palms of hands
  • Tension headaches
  • Stomach cramps
  • Insomnia
  • Digestive problems

Through their indecisive  driving behaviour, nervous  drivers reinforce their own fears, cause other drivers  to become frustrated by their  indecisive habits, and increase the risk  of accidents on motorways.
For those nervous drivers  who do venture out on to the  motorways, high levels of anxiety make them  more likely to make  mechanical errors in the operation of the vehicle as  well as perceptual errors.  Mistakes include:

  • Leaving the indicator on
  • Staying in fourth gear
  • Driving at excessively slow  or fast speeds
  • Drive too close to the car in  front

The RAC encourages nervous drivers to  recognise their fears and take positive action  to help curb them. MAD is  both treatable and manageable.
Top five tips for nervous  drivers:
1.    Keep plenty of space  around the vehicle and a safe  distance from the car in front as this gives more  time to react to changing road  conditions.
2.    Practice motorway driving  regularly… putting it off will  only worsen the problem.
3.    Listen to relaxing music,  practice breathing and  relaxation exercises.
4.    Bring along a  passenger/friend who can  help you stay calm.
5.    Undertake post-test motorway training with a  qualified instructor.

Watching the traffic and reading signs means there’s a lot to think about on busy roads.

Motorway Anxiety Disorder  does not necessarily result  from an accident. The highest levels of anxiety are  in younger and older female  drivers. Younger
drivers because they lack the  experience of driving on  motorways and are generally less “speed” focused  than their male counterparts.  The lowest levels of MAD are in  professional male drivers,  aged 28-55.
An Australian study found  that the top two situations  that produced anxiety – whether the person had had  an accident or not – were  driving alone, especially in fog, and driving  with a critical back seat  driver.
Conrad King, psychologist for  the RAC Foundation said: “For millions of motorists simply venturing onto a  motorway can turn their journey into a nightmare. Motorway Anxiety Disorder (MAD) affects over a
third of all drivers on motorways. People may  experience racing heart rate, shortness of breath, stomach  cramps and excess sweating.  Some drivers may even travel a long distance  out-of their way to avoid  having to drive on motorways.
“That people experience Motorway Anxiety Disorder  (MAD) is quite natural and understandable, as  motorway driving involves  manoeuvring at speed. This anxiety becomes a problem  when drivers fail to get  enough practice on the motorways, and so don’t ever  fully eliminate their fears.  Some drivers build up their fears so much  that they create new  completely irrational fears which serve to reinforce  their original anxiety.
“Motorway Anxiety Disorder  can be managed through  appropriate post-test driver training, through  regular practice and through  practicing breathing exercises and listening to  calming music.”
Sarah Forrow, Campaigns  Manager of the RAC  Foundation said: “It is worrying that more  than one in ten drivers  become extremely anxious when driving or considering  driving on motorways.  Anxious drivers are more likely to make mechanical  errors in the operation of  their vehicle and may also find it more difficult to  judge other vehicles’ speed,  and therefore may drive too fast or slow, and  too close to the car in front.
“For many nervous drivers  who venture onto the  motorway there is a high risk of a self-fulfilling  prophecy. They drive in an  indecisive way that reinforces their fears, annoys  other drivers, and can  increase the risk of
accidents on the motorway.  We would urge anxious  drivers to drive with a calm passenger, leave plenty  of space between their vehicle  and other vehicles, and practice their  driving regularly.
“Motorway driving presents a  series of unique driving  conditions and it is quite understandable that  people may be anxious about  driving on motorways.
It is important to point out  however, that motorways are  our safest roads.
You are seven times more  likely to be involved in an  accident on an urban road than on a motorway.”

Top ten worst motorways for nervous drivers:
1)    M25 – circular and  congested. Chris Rea’s Road  to Hell?
2)    A1 (M) – changes between  motorway and non-motorway  standard, roundabouts.
3)    M4/M5 interchange –  confusing signs.
4)    M1 junction 28 -32 – severe  congestion, traffic coming on  and off.
5)    M6 Birmingham – elevated  and local traffic mixes with  through traffic.
6)    M4 Maidenhead – highest  national rate of tailgating (70  per cent).
7)    M27 near Southampton –  cargo port and foreign  drivers.
8)    M8 to Glasgow – on ramps  from the right onto the  outside lane.
9)    M4 Wales – the height of the  Severn Bridge scares drivers.
10)   M18 near Doncaster –  confusing as it links to M1,  A1(M), M180 and M62.