OCD when driving

In 1992, a study (1) was conducted with 293 students, none with a diagnosed mental health problem. 

The following intrusive thoughts were listed, the percentage showing how many of the group had those specific thoughts:

Thought % female % male
Driving into window
Running car off road
Hitting people/animals with car
Swerving into traffic
Smashing into objects

What if my brakes fail? Did I just run someone over? What if I run out of gas on the highway?

The endless ways OCD can scare me on a trip makes it hard to even get in the car.

I wanted to share my thoughts and experiences of this, and consider those that share a similar struggle.

I've never enjoyed driving

It took me three attempts to pass my test.

The first, I went through an amber light turning to red. The second, I stalled coming out of a junction.

Traffic lights are the ones that get me. Every single time.

I don’t know if this is overthinking, anxiety, catastrophizing, or all the above. But I overthink them constantly.

Stopping at a junction, with a quote from an upcoming paragraph

What if it suddenly turns to amber, forcing me to brake hard and get hit from behind? What if I panic and put my foot down and go through a red?

It seems the line between getting hit and going through a red light is razor-thin. Especially with major ADHD, I find it difficult to make a rational decision in such a short space of time.

This fear, along with the constant fear of my brakes failing, keeps the warning light on. It’s just not on the dash, it’s in my head.

Hit and run OCD: The fear of hitting someone when driving

After visiting forums, I have learned just how many people have a worry about ‘hit and run OCD’, or running someone over.

It may also manifest when feeling a bump or knock on the car from a pothole or speedbump.

On occasions I have done a U-turn and went back to check if someone is lying on the floor.

It is easy for someone to tell us that ‘you would know if you knocked someone over’.

Sadly, OCD doesn’t always look for logic. Nor does it stop the ruminations.

Often the only way to rid us of these horrible thoughts is to go see the section of road for ourselves. That visual check feeding OCD and stopping the thought in it’s tracks.

Sometimes, that check isn’t enough.

What if the person crawled away? What if the police are checking cameras to see who did it?

OCD can evolve fast, and find new ways to torment us when we thought we were okay again.

Therapy really helped me understand these thoughts

Many drivers will be unaware that this could be OCD. The disorder is good at camouflaging and slowly taking over our lives.

Speaking to a GP when I was at breaking point helped point me in the right direction. It’s made driving much more bearable as I know when OCD is taking over, and understand how to prevent it doing so.

Other conditions may also be contributing. OCD is commonly associated with anxiety, Tourette Syndrome, ADHD and others. There could be other factors making driving a scary experience, and getting to the heart of it can only be a good thing.

This post is tough as I have such a hard time driving with OCD. But it reminds me that it can get much easier if we know where to start with it.

related posts


Purdon C. & Clark D.  Obsessive intrusive thoughts in nonclinical subjects. Part 1 Content & relation with depressive, anxious & obsessional symptoms.  Behav Res Ther 1992;31:713-20

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