What Is Amaxophobia?

Woman riding in a car looking out the window.

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What Is Amaxophobia?

Amaxophobia is a fear of being in a vehicle, either as a passenger or a driver. This phobia can be serious and life-limiting, making it difficult or even impossible for people to be in a car, bus, train, or airplane.

Amaxophobia is also sometimes known by other names including ochophobia, motorphobia, or hamaxophobia.

Symptoms 

Symptoms specific to amaxophobia include:

  • An intense fear of getting into an accident
  • Being afraid of the injuries or fatalities that would result from the accident
  • A fear of being trapped in the vehicle
  • Physical symptoms such as sweating, trembling, racing heart, and nausea
  • Avoidance of situations that involve being in a vehicle
  • Panic attacks

Amaxophobia, like any phobia, runs the gamut from mild to severe. Some people can travel in a car with a driver they fully trust, such as a spouse or parent. Others can take a bus or taxi on a familiar route. In the most severe cases, people with this phobia are unable to travel at all, except on foot.

Identifying Amaxophobia

Amaxophobia is not recognized as a distinct condition in the "Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders" (DSM-5). The DSM-5 is the diagnostic manual that doctors and other mental health professionals use to diagnose mental health conditions.

There are three types of phobia recognized by the DSM-5: Specific phobia, social phobia, and agoraphobia.

Amaxophobia is a specific phobia—a fear of a specific situation or object.

A trained clinician can help you determine which phobia or combination of phobias you have. In order for a mental health professional to make a specific phobia, your symptoms must match the American Psychiatric Association's general criteria, including:

  • Automatic and uncontrollable anxiety reactions, such as trembling, shortness of breath, and digestive issues
  • Taking extreme measures to avoid your trigger
  • An exaggerated reaction totally disproportionate to the actual risk
  • The fear, anxiety, or avoidance causes clinically significant distress or impaired functioning
  • Duration of 6 months or more

It must not be caused by another mental health or medical condition such as agoraphobia, panic disorder, or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Your doctor will ask questions about your symptoms and may perform a physical exam or lab tests to rule out other causes.

Causes

There are a number of factors that may play a role in the development of specific phobias such as amaxophobia. Some of these factors can include:

  • Genetics and family history: Research suggests that having a close family member who has a phobia or other type of anxiety disorder increases a person's risk of also developing a phobia.
  • Observation and modeling: Hearing stories about car accidents, observing others with similar phobias, and other influences can also contribute to the development of a specific phobia.
  • Experiences: Traumatic experiences can also play a part in the development of a phobia such as amaxophobia. Research suggests that traffic accidents are the most common causes of amaxophobia.

This fear could also be related to agoraphobia, a fear of being in a place or situation you can't escape in the event of developing panic or other incapacitating symptoms, or claustrophobia, the fear of being trapped in an enclosed space.

It is also common for specific phobias such as amaxophobia to co-occur alongside other anxiety disorders including other phobias, panic disorder, social anxiety disorder, and substance use disorder.

Types

While there is no official distinction between different types of amaxophobia, this condition may present in two ways:

  • Fear of driving: For some people with this condition, their fear primarily centers on anxiety about getting behind the wheel of a car.
  • Fear of being a passenger: For others, symptoms emerge in response to being a passenger in some type of vehicle.

Some people with amaxophobia are still able to drive their own cars. The prospect of allowing someone else to take control of the trip, however, can be terrifying. For others, driving itself is the trigger. And still others may experience amaxophobia in both conditions (as driver and passenger).

Treatment

There are a few different treatment options that may be used to help people with amaxophobia. These include:

Medications

Medications such as antidepressants and anti-anxiety drugs are sometimes prescribed to help people manage some of the physical and emotional symptoms of the condition. These medications are often most effective when used along with psychotherapy.

Psychotherapy

The first-line treatment for specific phobias is often a strategy known as exposure therapy. Working with a therapist, people are gradually exposed to the source of their fear while practicing relaxation strategies. Over time, the fear begins to lessen or even disappear.

Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) may also be used to address the negative or irrational thoughts that often contribute to the phobia. Some research suggests that, in some cases, CBT treatments for specific phobia are effective after just one to three sessions.

If amaxophobia is seriously affecting your quality of life, seek professional help. Success rates for treating all types of phobia are high.

Coping

The list of possible consequences of amaxophobia is long and includes a wide variety of repercussions for your career and personal life. Examples of how this phobia may affect your ability to cope include:

  • You might limit your earning potential because you can only apply for jobs within walking distance of your home.
  • You might be left out of excursions with friends and family, which can lead to feelings of rejection and isolation.
  • You may find it difficult to make social connections with other people because you are unable to travel by vehicle.

Like many specific phobias, the impact of amaxophobia depends largely on context. If you live in a self-contained walkable neighborhood, like parts of New York City, even a severe case of amaxophobia may not greatly affect your life. Everything you need is nearby or you can order it online.

If you live in a rural area or a sprawling city, where even picking up groceries requires a long car ride, a mild case of amaxophobia may be devastating.

Phobias and other anxiety disorders often grow worse over time if left untreated, so it is important to seek help as early as possible.

A Word From Verywell

While amaxophobia can take a serious toll on your life, effective treatments are available that can help bring relief. If you are experiencing symptoms of this condition that are impacting your life, you should contact a mental health professional.

If you or a loved one are struggling with a phobia, contact the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) National Helpline at 1-800-662-4357 for information on support and treatment facilities in your area.

For more mental health resources, see our National Helpline Database.

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