I felt compelled to look up the meaning of the word dystychiphobia because my calendar noted that today is “Dystychiphobia Awareness Day”. It turns out that some of my friends and myself may have some undiagnosed form of this condition. Dystychiphobia is the fear of accidents. Even though dystychiphobia can be the fear of airplane, highway, and railway wrecks, the promoters of today’s awareness day specify the fear of motor vehicle accidents.
People who suffer this type of fear may turn down invitations to travel or even feel anxious when the subject of travel is mentioned. This might be due to having been involved in an accident, someone they know having been in an accident, or even just thinking about the possibility of accidents. In severe cases, this can limit one’s ability to enjoy going places, travel for work, and taking vacations.
After reading about dystychiphobia, I wondered if I might have some form of it. There are two memorable incidents that give me serious pause whenever they come to mind. Although nothing tragic came about from them, both could have led to serious injury or death.
The first one took place on a trip from Northeast Nebraska to Omaha. One drizzly night in the fall of 1972, I was driving my 1967 Camaro along with my brother as passenger. One stretch of highway was closed for resurfacing and upgrades. In my foolishness, I drove around the highway department’s barricades and continued along the smooth, unmarked black asphalt tarmac. A few miles later, the left front tire hit a pile of unleveled asphalt and caused the car to go into a spin. I was barely able to regain control of the vehicle. The car narrowly missed driving off the road and landed atop of a concrete culvert.
Thankfully, both of us were wearing our seatbelts. The belts kept me behind the wheel and also saved my brother from possibly flying through the windshield. I backed away from the edge of the road and decided to return home because I didn’t know if the undercarriage of the car had been damaged or not. The next day, I had a mechanic check for problems. He found a bent driveshaft. That was replaced within the next week and the car was good as new.
Inwardly, I worried about the implications of my youthful decision to drive on a closed road and how this could have seriously injured or killed one or both of us. The memory of that night still haunts me to this day.
The other serious incident took place 21 years later while driving my Volkswagen Quantum Syncro home from a visit to Toronto. The car needed refueling, so I decided to exit the freeway at Minneapolis, Minnesota. While in the exit lane, I switched off the cruise control, but it did not respond. The engine tried to maintain cruising speed even while I applied the brakes. A split second later on the approach to a tight curve, I punched the clutch pedal to downshift. This disengaged the cruise control, enabling me to maintain control of the car.
After filling the car’s tank with gasoline I parked the car at a restaurant to ease my anxiety with some mental calming exercises. After a light lunch, I resumed the trip back to Nebraska but did not engage the cruise control because it had failed two of it’s three cancelation modes. Thankfully, the car was equipped with a manual transmission and the clutch switch had halted the cruise feature. I still shiver when that incident comes to mind.
I have friends and acquaintances who have experienced close calls and a few who have actually been in highway wrecks. Most of them still experience at least minor reticence about driving. Remembering the dangers helps us be more mindful drivers. Obsessing over the hazards can lead to dystychiphobia.
Dystychiphobia Awareness Day is a good time to consider if we may have some form of this fear. If dystychiphobia is problematic, the sufferer may wish to consult a licensed mental health professional.
The Blue Jay of Happiness quotes entrepreneur, educator, and computer scientist, Sebastian Thrun. “If we could do away with traffic accidents, that’d be wonderful. There’d be more than a million people saved every year on this planet.”