The Fear of Winter Driving in the Snow

Woman driving in the snow

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The fear of winter driving does not have an official phobia name. However, it is an incredibly common and rational fear in many cases.

For some people, the fear of driving in winter weather stems from a larger overall fear of driving. Others are afraid solely of winter driving conditions. However, not all instances of fear surrounding winter driving represent a true phobia.

Normal Fear vs. Phobia

A fear and a phobia of winter driving are not the same issues. What distinguishes a normal fear of winter driving from a phobia?

If you have a phobia, you have an irrational fear that interferes with your ability to function efficiently at home or at work. You also must meet the criteria for diagnosis as outlined by the American Psychiatric Association in the latest Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM).

In order to be diagnosed with a specific phobia, people must exhibit symptoms including:

  • Fear that is out of proportion to the real danger
  • Significant distress or avoidance of the source of the fear
  • Difficulty maintaining normal routines or tasks due to the fear

In addition to these criteria, people must experience symptoms for at least six months and the symptoms must not be the result of another disorder.

Causes

There are a number of different factors that can play a role in causing a fear of winter driving. Some of these include:

Fear of Driving

Fear of driving often stems from a fear of getting into an accident. It may also be related to such things as being nervous about driving in unfamiliar locations or fear of becoming trapped inside the vehicle. 

If you are afraid of driving in general, it only makes sense that your fear might extend to driving in inclement weather. Snow and ice decrease visibility, increase the required stopping distance, and enhance the chances of being involved in an accident.

Winter Phobias

The fear of winter driving may be related to a wide range of other winter phobias. Fear of snow, known as chionophobia, is a type of specific phobia. People who have this phobia may fear the extreme cold, fear being physically harmed, or fear getting stranded somewhere in snowy conditions.

If you are afraid of snow, cold weather, or being trapped, driving in winter may enhance your fears. Some people prefer to take public transportation or ride with friends, while those with more severe fears may refuse to get into a vehicle at all.

Unfamiliarity With Winter Conditions

Simply being unfamiliar with winter weather conditions can greatly increase your chances for developing a fear of driving in poor weather, even if you do not have other driving or winter-related phobias.

If you suddenly move or travel from a warm-weather locale to a place known for its winter storms, the feeling may be overwhelming. It can be difficult to learn how and when to use snow tires or chains, calculate stopping distances, and learn to steer out of a skid.

Coping

The fear of winter driving varies widely in severity and the level of impact it has on people's lives. If you have a fear of driving, there are a number of things that you can do to help cope. These include:

  • Get familiar with winter driving: If your fear is less severe or based primarily on unfamiliarity with winter road conditions, educating yourself about driving methods and carefully planning your route may be enough to alleviate your concerns.
  • Slow down: Driving in winter conditions often necessitates decreased speed. Watch for black ice, make sure you have winter tires on your vehicle, and give yourself plenty of time to get to your destination.
  • Be prepared: Make sure your car is packed with winter essentials just in case you need them. Your vehicle should be equipped with an ice scraper, shovel, first-aid kit, extra gloves, a warm blanket, battery-operated heater, and emergency flares. Knowing you are prepared to face the worst-case scenario can help you feel less fearful of driving in winter conditions. 

More severe fears and phobias, however, may require professional assistance. Fortunately, the fear of winter driving, like all driving phobias, responds well to a variety of treatment options including exposure therapy and cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT).

A Word From Verywell

If your phobia is rooted in another fear, your therapist will help you develop a treatment plan that addresses all of the surrounding issues as well as the winter driving concerns. With hard work and a bit of help, you can conquer your fear.

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4 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. American Psychiatric Association: Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition. Arlington, VA, American Psychiatric Association, 2013.

  2. Kurečková V, Zaoral A, Řezáč P, Zámečník P. Driving related fear—a complex problem with a complex treatment. In: Stanton NA, Landry S, Di Bucchianico G, Vallicelli A, eds. Advances in Human Aspects of Transportation. Vol 484. Springer International Publishing; 2017:279-286. doi:10.1007/978-3-319-41682-3_24

  3. Coleman JSM, Newby KD, Multon KD, Taylor CL. Weathering the storm: revisiting severe-weather phobiaBull Amer Meteor Soc. 2014;95(8):1179-1183. doi:10.1175/BAMS-D-13-00137.1

  4. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Winter Driving Safety: Tips for Traveling Safely.