I've worked in my position as a programmer for almost a year now in Texas. As I've become more ingrained with the company culture I'm being given chances to prove myself and take initiative on different projects, and most of those involve driving to clients or technical demonstrations across the country. Because our work involves demonstrating vehicle safety, I have to take the company car and I'm not able to fly to the locations.

The issue here is that I am deathly afraid of driving. I can't stand it and I approach the idea of driving above 65 mph with the same level of adrenaline and fear that most people feel around roller coasters. It's dangerous under the best of circumstances and I can't trust myself to drive on the highway for more than ten minutes without suffering from a panic attack (at which point driving becomes incredibly dangerous and I physically cannot complete the trip). People are already starting to notice that I don't volunteer myself to drive the team to lunch or join them for a drink after work.

I'm not confident that I will ever be comfortable driving and I accept that. I also accept that promotions and cool projects will be more difficult to come by. However, I really like this job and I don't want to be seen as unwilling to put forth the same level of effort in the company as others.

What are some ways I can explain my fear of driving in a way that doesn't make me look bad to others?

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    You can't avoid driving and live in fear of it for your whole life - don't accept this, confront it. I suggest you consult a mental health professional about this and address your phobia rather than allow it to control you. Otherwise, you are compromising both your current and future employment. Your company probably has an EAP (Employee Assistance Program) which can get you the assistance and advice you need without your manager or HR being told about it.
    – alroc
    Commented Sep 27, 2016 at 1:50
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    Feel for you but the irony of your work involves demonstrating vehicle safety and you are afraid of driving.
    – paparazzo
    Commented Sep 27, 2016 at 1:55
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    Can you not take a job which doesn't require driving? This is not a rhetorical question. I don't see fear of driving any different from a fear of fire or fear of heights. If you had one of those fears, you most certainly couldn't work as a firefighter or a window cleaner (respectively). You could, of course, work on dealing with the fear or you could just avoid those situations and focus on the more important things in life.
    – Masked Man
    Commented Sep 27, 2016 at 2:46
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    Are these always solo gigs in your company? (As somebody who limits driving due to vision issues, I sympathize.) Commented Sep 27, 2016 at 3:21
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    @alroc: "You can't avoid driving (...) for your whole life" - of course, one perfectly can, as evidenced by all the people who never bother to get a driving license, but it might indeed not be feasible everywhere. Commented Sep 27, 2016 at 5:55

1 Answer 1


Note: For ease of explanation, I will use one of the analogies from my comments (window cleaner with fear of heights) a number of times in the answer.

Your issue here is one among a class of issues wherein a job involves doing a certain task repeatedly, but the task or a certain portion of it triggers some kind of fear.

Just to give you a "you are not alone" feel, other examples of such pairs of professions and fear would be: 1. window cleaner/fear of heights 2. firefighter/fear of large fires 3. lifeguard or swimming instructor/fear of water bodies 4. politician/fear of public speaking.

I will not offer you a "do this" solution, but provide you with options. Which one you choose depends on your life priorities, so you have to make that decision for yourself.

Option 1: Get another job which does not require regular (or any) high speed driving.
A person with fear of heights will be unable to work as a window cleaner (which would often involve cleaning the exteriors of tall buildings). Finding a job which does not involve such heights is a reasonable option.

Option 2: Work on eliminating the fear
If you absolutely must do this job (for whatever reason that is important to you), you need to work on how you could eliminate that fear. Seeking medical help is a good starting point, but I am not a medical professional, so I won't go offering pseudo-expert medical advice, which will only cause harm.

Option 3: Negotiate other work options with your manager
If you take Option 2, you would most likely also need to do this in the interim until you succeed in overcoming the fear. However, you could also do this instead of Option 2.

Ask for a 1:1 meeting with your manager, express your concern, and ask if you could be reassigned to another role which requires less or no driving. The support you receive and the outcome will vary based on the company's policy and the company's size, and perhaps also, based on other factors such as your rapport with the manager and his personality.

Going back to the analogy, our window cleaner friend may get responses ranging from, "I am afraid if I cannot expect you to clean the exterior of a window on the 200th floor, you would need to seek other employment options" to "Okay, I understand, let me move you to the floor cleaning department, where you won't have to deal with heights."

Note though that, if you negotiate a "limited driving" role in your current role (as against a completely different role), you put the company at some disadvantage. Depending on company policies and local laws on discrimination (fear of something could be considered a "psychological disability" with sufficient lawyering), they may renegotiate your salary or other benefits.

So, to summarize, what you should do depends on how important this job is to you, how easy or hard it would be to find other kinds of jobs, how much effort you are willing to put to lose the fear.

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    "A person with fear of heights will be unable to work as a window cleaner (which would often involve cleaning the exteriors of tall building)." - the great thing in this case is that the window cleaner analogy is somewhat unfitting: The OP isn't a driver, or a car-something, but a programmer - i.e. their job has no inherent connection to driving whatsoever, even though some select positions for programmers (such as tge OP's current position) might include some driving. Commented Sep 27, 2016 at 5:48
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    @O. R. Mapper From OP's description, it is quite clear that regular driving is a part of his job, especially since he is working in the vehicle safety domain (or something of that sort). The title of his role doesn't matter. If someone in his role is expected to do a lot of driving, then that is what the job description is. What if OP's title is Vehicle Safety Programmer, rather than "just" programmer? Would you still object to the analogy?
    – Masked Man
    Commented Sep 27, 2016 at 6:09
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    I would, as he could maintain his profession and would just have to change domains, which sounds like a less drastic change than going from "window cleaner" to something entirely different (e.g. baker). Note that a "vehicle safety programmer" may well have plenty of valuable and specific skills and experience suitable for safety-related programming in various kinds of moving systems - so there might even be solutions a long way before invoking the "a programmer should be able to write programs for any purpose" mantra. Commented Sep 27, 2016 at 6:20
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    Ok, I believe I already covered that under "ask if you could be reassigned to another role which requires less or no driving." That includes those "other" safety-related roles. Moving to a completely different domain is also an option, but I have nowhere suggested that it is the only option (or at least, that was not my intention). Anyway, I think I am already in agreement with what you are suggesting here, only it is not clear from my answer, so I will clean that up and make it more clear.
    – Masked Man
    Commented Sep 27, 2016 at 7:02
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    @O.R.Mapper I found the analogies improper for similar reasons. Even the "Vehicle Safety Programmer" hypothetical makes no sense. Even this title would not imply that the programmer must operate the vehicle. Programmers who write flight safety software for aircraft are very rarely pilots. They cannot fly planes. They cannot operate the machinery for which they write programs. Same for programmers who write flight safety software for spacecraft. They are not astronauts. These analogies are just not accurate. Commented Jan 12, 2022 at 18:16

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