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Fear of left turns or left turn phobia is one of the most common forms of driving anxiety and one that affects a surprisingly large number of people. No wonder, it’s an anxiety issue that I observe and treat so frequently in my individual session with patients at The April Center for Anxiety. While on the surface, anxiety over left turns may seem like a rather harmless fear, as you gain a deeper understanding of the condition, it becomes clear that it is a fear that can truly interfere with your freedom. 

Research has shown that making a left-hand turn is one of the most dangerous moves you can make while driving and is involved in approximately 61% of all intersection crashes (1). While there is danger associated with the maneuver, it is often unavoidable, so learning how to confidently turn left is crucial to lessening anxiety and embracing safe driving habits. 

afraid of left turns

 

Why are People Afraid of Left Turns?

Good driving involves staying vigilant and assessing multiple scenarios simultaneously. As humans, we are hard-wired to crave control. When driving, we encounter situations that can be chaotic. This can inspire fear sometimes, for many, in general. Specifically, making a left turn can trigger this fear since there are so many variables to consider in a short period of time. Compared to a right turn, where you can largely focus on one lane of traffic, left turns require you to look in all directions with vehicles approaching at high rates of speed. The influx of information can frighten some people who tend to desire a strong experience of control. 

There's no reason to feel shame when you're but one of the millions of people who experience anxiety when turning left. This fear can be triggered by a wide range of sources, including:

·       lack of driving confidence

·       past driving trauma (as in an accident)

·       an uncomfortable experience on the road (like a “panic attack”)

·       scary thoughts when driving

·       lack of driving experience

scared of turning left

 

The first step to begin conquering your fear is to pinpoint exactly what you’re afraid of and work forward. Our anxiety treatment often helps those identify their fear as a beginning step. Even the smallest amount of initial progress can often kickstart your path to more confident and less fearful driving.

What Makes Turning Left More Dangerous Than Turning Right?

As briefly mentioned, turning left is a frequent trigger for those who struggle with driving anxiety. It can even be their primary fear. Why? There are multiple reasons, starting with the placement of the car. Left turns require you to go against the flow of traffic and into the path of oncoming vehicles. This scenario can result in other drivers not seeing you. You may even misjudge their distance or speed and cut them off. 

Additionally, left turns are more likely to be at the discretion of the driver and not at the prompting of a light or signal. 

These are called “unprotected left turns” officially, but those with fear of driving tend to lock onto this label that seems to confirm their anxiety. 

While there are left turn signals, they are often short with the green light remaining after the arrow disappears. This then means that drivers must decide when to turn on their own. 

If there is no signal, drivers turning left tend to hesitate longer than those going right and decide, at the last moment, to "go for it." This hesitation can cause confusion, potentially putting all drivers involved at a higher risk of an accident.

 

 anxiety over left turns

 

What is Tachophobia?

Tachophobia (2) is an irrational fear of speed. Those who experience tachophobia become scared while moving quickly in any type of vehicle. This fear can extend beyond vehicles to bikes, airplanes, roller coasters, public transit and, in some cases, even walking too quickly. One common fear that Tachophobia is triggered by, is the fear of being out of control. The strong desire to remain in control is at the core of so many anxiety struggles. 

 vehophobia

What is Vehophobia?

Vehophobia is the specific fear of driving. People can experience this fear as either the driver or the passenger. Vehophobia can be associated with:

      an injury in a car accident

      Witnessing a car crash or news items about car crashes

      Family members who have unintentionally modeled a fear of driving

      Choice to avoid driving following an uncomfortable driving experience.

The last bullet point is the most significant as far as creating a driving phobia. Why? Avoidance is the creator of ALL phobias

fear of left turns

 

What is the Difference Between Amaxophobia and Vehophobia?

Unlike Amaxophobia, which is simply anxiety over riding in any vehicle for fear of getting into an accident, those with Vehophobia are afraid of driving a car. 

While the two conditions have similarities, they are very different. 

However, both can be debilitating and interfere with a person's quality of life. For example, both phobias make traveling very difficult and performing daily chores challenging. 

Depending on the severity, both require the sufferer to find alternate ways to run errands, get to and from work, and visit family and friends. Finally, both are disempowering and can lead to a dependence on others. 

In this article, we’re addressing one particular area of Vehophobia (driving anxiety) and that is the fear of making left turns. 

 

Anxiety When Making Left Turns

Experiencing anxiety when making left-hand turns is often an issue for those struggling with Vehophobia. As explained earlier, it can have a significant impact on a driver. 

Below are the most common triggers if you struggle with driving anxiety when encountering a left turn:

1.   When you need to make an unprotected left turn

An unprotected left turn is any turn that doesn't have a designated green arrow signal. This includes turning onto a road without a light and waiting to turn left on green in an intersection. 

These scenarios are often the scariest for those with fear of driving, since you can't rely on the protection of a signal that provides the right of way and halts oncoming traffic. 

anxiety when making left turns

2.   Turning left on green

Turning left on the green light is slightly easier than a completely unprotected left-hand turn, with or without a stop sign, since there are generally only two lanes of traffic moving and not four. 

When making a left turn at a green light, it’s necessary to wait until there is no immediate oncoming traffic before moving your vehicle. While it is acceptable to sit farther into the intersection, this isn't required, and you may stay at the specified red light stopping area to await a lull in the oncoming traffic. 

Just like all left turns, once the road is clear, you proceed. 

If you’re left turn phobic, this is often an anxious experience rife with “what if” thoughts about other cars. 

Additionally, many with vehophobia experience fear of feeling trapped or stuck. A desire to leave one’s car to escape is not uncommon for those with this form of driving anxiety.

3.   Anxiety when turning left at an intersection

Many with driving anxiety experience fear when turning left at an intersection. One source of anxiety tends to be pressure from other drivers, whether real or assumed, due to impatience on their part. 

Another layer of perceived pressure, though, is the need to look out for pedestrians. While they should not cross in front of you when you have the right of way, many people choose to walk at the wrong time! The need to keep an eye out for those on foot can add another level of anxiety for many with fear of left turns. 

A third aspect of discomfort for those with this struggle is the notion that other drivers’ eyes are upon them due to the center stage position of waiting in the intersection. Your thoughts might be plead… “Look away, other drivers! Look away!”. But to no avail. 

 

driving anxiety when turning left

4.   When waiting to make a left turn

Often, for those with left turn fear, the most stressful part of making a left turn is the lead-up to it. They frequently begin panicking and anticipating all the negative scenarios that can happen. 

In anxiety treatment, working on managing fear-inducing thoughts can make a tremendous difference when it's time to execute a left turn. And in your life, in general, if you want more freedom. Reality-based self-talk can stop the panic spiral and give you the confidence necessary to conquer your fear. 

Commit to CBT for Fear of Left Turns

The fear of left turns doesn't have to control you. Driving fears can feel debilitating, but we’ve got you covered at The April Center for Anxiety. With practice, you can gain the confidence to turn left in any scenario, opening a world of opportunities. As with any fear or phobia, seeking support from an anxiety treatment expert can change your life and return you to freedom from driving anxiety! Don't be afraid to reach out and ask for help.

Resources:

1.     Delbert, Caroline. (2021) “We Should Abolish The Left Turn, Science Suggests” [Popular Mechanics] June 14th, Available at: https://www.popularmechanics.com/science/a36620755/eliminate-left-turns

2.     (2022) “Tachophobia Fear of Speed” [Cleveland Clinic], Available at: 

my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/22647-tachophobia-fear-of-speed

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