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Last updated: April 10, 2023

Tips for Teens With Driving Anxiety

Scared to get behind the wheel? Here are 18 ways to overcome your fear.

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Generation Z, commonly known as Gen Z, is driving less than previous generations. According to an analysis from The Washington Post, only a quarter of 16-year-olds in 2020 held driver’s licenses compared to 43 percent in 1997. While it’s not entirely clear why Gen Z is driving less, one reason may be anxiety. If that’s the case for you or your teen, we’re here to help.

Tips for Teens With Driving Anxiety

Anxiety about becoming a teen car crash statistic may prevent you from hitting the gas. Follow these tips to get started on your driving journey confidently.

  1. Talk about the fear: First, it’s essential to understand what you’re actually scared of. Is it getting into an at-fault car accident? Losing control of the wheel? Having to pay for expensive repairs? Talk about your fear with friends and family to get to the root of it.
  2. Remind yourself why getting licensed is important: Your parents can help you understand the benefits of getting a driver’s license, like enjoying newfound independence and greater personal responsibility. After all, who wants to be dependent on Mom and rideshares forever?
  3. Study your driver’s safety manual: Learning the rules of the road is essential for driving and could quell your anxiety about getting behind the wheel. While you can’t control what other drivers are doing, you can drive defensively to avoid crashes and follow all applicable teen driving laws.
  4. Copy good behaviors: Hopefully, your parents are the type of driver you wish to emulate. This means following best practices, like putting on your seatbelt, avoiding distractions, and driving while alert and sober.
  5. Think positive: Try to put your worries aside by repeating positive affirmations. The truth is that even if you get into a car crash, only 1 percent of accidents are fatal and nearly 70 percent involve property damage only, as of 2020.1 In other words, your chances of dying in a car crash are very low.
  6. Get comfortable in the car: Learn all the controls while the car is parked, and study all of the vehicle’s safety features. With new technology like lane departure alerts, safe driving has never been easier.
  7. Have everything you need: Make sure that if you get stopped or your car breaks down, you have all the required documents and contact information handy:
    • Registration
    • Insurance proof
    • Roadside assistance contact information
    • Emergency contacts
  8. Plan your route: Use a map app to determine where you’re going to drive before you start the journey.
  9. Practice in an empty parking lot: It’s best to begin learning how to drive in an empty parking lot where there’s little to no chance of crashing. Starting slow is the best option.
  10. Embrace positive reinforcement: Let your parents know that, as a teen driver, you would benefit from positive feedback and rewards for good driving behaviors.
  11. Drive on safe/slow roads: Once you get out of the parking lot phase and learn the basics of driving, only drive on roads in residential areas with little traffic.
  12. Gradually expand where you drive: After you feel comfortable driving on slow streets, gradually expand your driving area. Move onto more trafficked roads and more complicated situations, like roundabouts.
  13. Practice in different circumstances: Make sure to mix up when you’re driving to get both nighttime and daytime hours in. Drive in various weather conditions, like rain, hail, snow, etc.
  14. Breathe deeply: If you feel panicked, take a deep breath. It’s likely that your anxiety is making you more scared than necessary.
  15. Avoid distractions: Put down your phone, don’t eat and drive, and stay focused. Unfortunately, teen distracted driving is a pervasive problem.
  16. Pull over if you’re overwhelmed: If your anxiety is affecting your ability to drive safely, pull over until you’ve calmed down.
  17. Take lessons at a driving school: Sometimes, learning to drive from a parent can be more stressful than learning from a professional. Driving teachers often have cars with two brake pedals so they can take over in case of an incoming collision, which could lessen your anxiety about driving. They will also teach you how to drive defensively and avoid crashes in ways your parents may not be aware of.
  18. See a therapist: If you’ve done all of the above steps and still feel debilitating anxiety surrounding driving, it may be time to see a therapist. While everyone has some level of anxiety, talk therapy can help if you have an anxiety disorder.


Find therapists near you using Psychology Today’s database. You can filter by therapists who specialize in anxiety, as well as by gender, types of therapy, age, pricing, insurance, location, and more.2

Anxiety vs. Phobias vs. Avoidance

You may hear the words anxiety, avoidance, and phobia, but what do they really mean and how are they different?


Anxiety is another word for worrying, whether you have normal, everyday worries, or a full-blown anxiety disorder. An anxiety disorder occurs when a worry doesn’t go away, worsens over time, and interferes with a person’s daily activities, like schoolwork or driving. There are four main types of anxiety disorders.

  • Generalized anxiety disorder: A person with generalized anxiety disorder feels restless or on edge, tired, and irritable. They may have difficulty focusing on a task at hand, like reading a learner’s permit manual, and may struggle to fall and stay asleep, which could result in drowsy driving. They may also experience aches and pains with no physical cause, which could make it hard to stay focused on driving.
  • Panic anxiety disorder: With panic anxiety disorder, a person experiences frequent and unexpected panic attacks, periods of intense discomfort, fear, and loss of control. There isn’t always a clear danger or trigger to these attacks, which can make safe driving a challenge.
  • Social anxiety disorder: Social anxiety involves an intense fear of other people watching or judging you. Learning to drive with social anxiety may be hard, as symptoms include trembling, a racing heart, and stomach aches.
  • Phobias: Phobias are a type of anxiety that involve an intense fear or aversion to a specific object or situation. In this case, you may have a fear of driving. While learning to drive can be scary for anyone, people with driving phobias have a fear that’s disproportionate to the actual risk.3


Rather than face their fears, some people with anxiety disorders avoid them completely, which actually maintains their disorders. However, not everyone who suffers from anxiety engages in avoidance. For those that do, therapy can help.


One type of therapy for anxiety disorders is exposure therapy, which exposes people to their greatest fears. Exposure therapy is one of the most critical parts of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT).4

Did COVID-19 Delay Teen Drivers?

It’s no secret that young people are driving less than ever, with only a quarter of 16-year-olds having their driver’s licenses in 2020.5 Additionally, according to the latest data available from May 2021, only 45 percent of people ages 15 to 19 are licensed drivers, compared to 67 percent of the total U.S. adult population.6 Overall, 16- to 19-year-olds drove 43 percent less than the national average as of May 31, 2022.7

Age Total number of licensed drivers (in thousands) Total percentage of the demographic that is licensed
15-19 9,743 45%
20-24 15,966 74%
25-29 17,585 79%
30-34 19,154 83%
35-39 21,060 94%
40-44 21,093 100%
45-49 19,153 97%
50-54 16,868 81%
55-59 12,760 59%
60-64 9,914 47%
65-69 8,386 46%
70-74 7,468 49%
75-79 5,911 60%
80-84 3,511 56%
85 and over 2,050 34%

While it’s not clear why Gen Z has such low license numbers, one major cause could be the COVID-19 pandemic.

Everyone drove less during the pandemic due to national stay-at-home orders, which prohibited all nonessential travel. From 2020 to 2021, the number of vehicle miles traveled in the U.S. decreased by 13 percent. It stands to reason that many teens were driving less during this period and that those who might have been eligible to get their license at this time may have postponed doing so due to COVID-19.

Still, the pandemic can’t be the only reason why Gen Z is driving less. Experts speculate that the high cost of auto insurance, the negative environmental impact of driving, and the increased usage of rideshare services may contribute to Gen Z’s lack of driving.


Want more helpful information related to teen driving? Read our list of safety tips for parents of teen drivers. Driving can be a scary endeavor for both parent and child, but with the right information and a safe vehicle, you can lessen your chances of a crash. Enjoy that graduated license!


  1. Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS). National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. (2023).

  2. Find a Therapist. Psychology Today. (2023).

  3. Anxiety Disorders. National Institute of Mental Health. (2023).

  4. Rethinking Avoidance: Toward a Balanced Approach to Avoidance in Treating Anxiety Disorders. National Library of Medicine. (2018, Apr).

  5. The oldest (and youngest) states and the shrinking number of teenagers with licenses. The Washington Post. (2023).

  6. National Population by Characteristics: 2020-2022. United States Census Bureau. (2023).

  7. Average Annual Miles per Driver by Age Group. U.S. Department of Transportation Federal Highway Administration. (2022, May 31).

  8. Maps and Data – Annual Vehicle Miles Traveled in the United States. U.S. Department of Energy Alternative Fuels Data Center. (2023).