Sudden Vertigo While Driving—Understanding the Causes and Overcoming Dizziness - Driver's License and Testing Blog - Driven2Drive

CALL : 610.664.7400

Sudden Vertigo While Driving—Understanding the Causes and Overcoming Dizziness

Marie-Claire De Villiers
By Marie-Claire De Villiers
Joel Taylor
Reviewed by Joel Taylor

Published July 31, 2022.

Woman feeling ill while driving a car

We all want to have a stress-free experience while driving, but unexpected physical reactions in your body may make good driving difficult. For example, experiencing an attack of vertigo may make you feel like a shipwreck victim, clinging onto the wheel! You may have a sense of falling, dizziness and nausea, intense driving anxiety, or becoming visually disoriented by the rush of moving vehicles or scenery flashing past.

Try to deal with these sudden changes and dizziness while driving in an immediate and practical way because it's risky to keep driving in this situation. There are ways to cope until you can pull over safely or get back to normal. However, if you're having a panic attack, stop driving as soon as possible until you've recovered.

Causes of Sudden Vertigo While Driving

Reasons for a sudden vertigo attack may include general anxiety, for example, about being a new driver, driving alone, or driving fast on a highway. As an experienced driver, you may become anxious about adverse conditions, such as driving in rain or driving in snow.

Driving Vertigo Triggers

Specific triggers to driving anxiety may include:

Your anxiety might be a specific phobia, or a dangerous situation involving aggression from another driver could make you so anxious that you have a panic attack; in these cases, get help from a psychologist or psychiatrist to deal with your high level of anxiety.

Vision-Related Vertigo

If you get visually distracted by something moving faster or differently from the movement of your vehicle, this can bring on vertigo; or, repeated attacks of vertigo might be a symptom of Binocular Vision Dysfunction (BVD), meaning your eyes struggle to focus together and must make repeated re-focusing movements. This can strain the eyes, leading to fatigue, headaches, migraines and blurred vision, as well as vertigo. Get your eyes tested for BVD if that sounds like your experience.

Stress-Related Vertigo

Your own physical wellbeing, or heightened anxiety while driving, can bring on vertigo. Your own levels of stress, perhaps overstimulation from caffeine or loud music or hours of stress at work, all interfere with your focus on the road and generate tension and anxiety. You may have neglected to check your blind spot while driving, and get a fright when a car suddenly overtakes you. Distractions like these can trigger sudden dizziness or nausea.

How to Overcome Dizziness from Vertigo While Driving

The best start to dealing with vertigo would be to avoid it—tackle your anxiety at its source. To deal with driving anxiety, first consolidate your driving skills by learning some defensive driving techniques. Any licensed driver can benefit from this additional driving training. Then consider some practical, soothing activities to defuse your anxiety while you drive, like slow, regular breathing, turning on the aircon to cool down, and playing some soft soothing music.

However, when you have an attack of vertigo, it's an emergency that needs immediate resolution, for the sake of safe driving. Distracted driving is dangerous to yourself and others. A migraine with its blurry vision and sensitivity to light, or a panic attack with vomiting, will render you a disabled driver. Treat the problem of a sudden attack of vertigo seriously, follow these steps:

  • Stop the car and lie down on the back seat to recover. Then, if you feel you can't continue driving, call a friend to bring an extra driver to get you home.
  • Get informed about treatment for vertigo; some self-managed care can relieve it (if it's not caused by a medical syndrome).
  • For repeated incidents of vertigo, get tested by a neuro-visual specialist in case you have BDV or vertical heterophoria.
  • Get treatment for your anxiety from a psychiatrist or psychologist.

You may be able to remedy your vertigo by attending to the driver—yourself—as the most important part of any driving experience. All the best defensive driving skills are no use if you're at risk of a sudden attack of vertigo while driving. Take care out there!

Can't find what you're looking for?

Powered By


Click here