06/08/2012 08:46 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Honk If You're Afraid To Drive

One of my most far-reaching life decisions was weighted by my dread of driving. After college in Madison, Wisc., I considered moving to Chicago or Minneapolis, both appealing and affordable. I, however, chose Manhattan, the costliest city in the land, a decision predicated on two factors, not necessarily in this order:

I wanted to work on a magazine and this was where they were.

A mass transportation system made it eminently doable to survive without a car.

Most people panic at the thought of public speaking. Not me. Hand over a mike and I'll yak in front of thousands. Flying? I'm cool with that. Spiders? We amicably coexist.

The fear on which I have a lockdown is far more pathetic. Driving has always scared the bejesus out of me. We hear plenty about road rage. What about road fright? Fear of driving should merit its own handle like gamophobia (fear of marriage), taphephobia (fear of being buried alive) or the profoundly misnamed acarophobia (fear of small insects). Surely I can't be the only person freaked when, on the other side of a slender yellow line dividing a road, someone ill-equipped to drive -- me, for example -- is operating tons of machinery that can, with one skid, maim or squash them. I have fretted about this since long before people combined driving with putting on mascara, texting or illegally chatting on a cell phone.

When I moved to New York, many young women eschewed subways, which featured not only graffiti and vermin, but an infestation of groping pervs. Not me. As long as I didn't have to drive, I endured sweaty subway commutes next to gentlemen ready to bump and grind. It has been ever thus.

I have spent decades in my heroic husband's passenger seat, being chauffeured hither and yon. Being a creative type, while in our car, my mind wanders. As a result, though I have now lived in Manhattan for decades, I retain only the dimmest grasp of how to navigate the megalopolis. Mosholu Parkway? Kosciuszko Bridge? The charmingly named Sunrise Highway? I'm vaguely familiar with these locations from the patois of local traffic alerts, but don't ask me to find them on a map and do not ask me for directions. I literally never know where I'm going, which has compounded my fear of driving -- along with the fact that the City is home to a disproportionate number of audacious drivers who make turns from whatever lane they fancy and consider speed limits to be mere suggestions.

Given my history, you might assume I don't possess a driver's license. You would be wrong. I've been licensed to drive (and possibly kill) since I went kicking and screaming to the DMV a full year after all of my friends became certified at 16, when we North Dakotans were given a green light to legally drive. Even then my pals mocked my abilities. Merge with traffic? Maintain the speed limit? Maneuver out of snowbanks? Not in my skill set. Nonetheless, during different times in my life, I have driven -- once all the way from Manhattan to Cape Cod in a biblical downpour. Unfortunately, however, twice after I'd become almost-comfortable driving, I suffered accidents that were entirely my fault. (There was another automobile on the road? Really?) Physically, these smashups hurt our cars more than me, but they thoroughly obliterated my confidence and parked me, literally, on the curb.

Recently, however, Rational Me talked to the rest of me and decided that not driving is insane. It cramps my style and independence. I can't, say, zip up from Manhattan to the suburban college where I teach, grocery-shopping at Costco on the way, and my paralysis may eventually have far more limiting consequences, since should I ever want to move away from NYC, I'm screwed. Driving is a basic life skill, like knowing how to hard-boil eggs or type.

I have sworn to once again get down and dirty behind the wheel.

My first recent foray, on a nearly deserted parkway one sunny Sunday afternoon, was borderline pleasant. With my husband at my side, my terror alarm sounded only after two hours, at the sight of a Hells Angels brigade in my rearview mirror when I had to turn in unfamiliar territory. "Right! Go! Move!" my husband shrieked while horns honked and my hands white-knuckled the steering wheel, stalling the car at a busy intersection. I was that driver -- the one you curse.

Since then, with considerable practice, I've improved. Give me a country road with no need to reverse, pass a tractor-trailer or parallel park, and I will get from A to B. You would not want me to drive your newborn baby home from the hospital and no one would mistake me for either Thelma or Louise, but I will get the job done, and safely, too.

Now if I could only master a GPS.


Click here to preorder Slouching Toward Adulthood: Observations from the Not-So-Empty Nest.

For more by Sally Koslow, click here.

For more on becoming fearless, click here.