Exploring the Use of Computer Games and Virtual Reality in Exposure Therapy for Fear of Driving Following a Motor Vehicle Accident

Cyberpsychol Behav. 2003 Jun;6(3):329-34. doi: 10.1089/109493103322011641.


Specific phobia, situational type-driving, induced by accident (accident phobia) occurs in 18-38% of those involved in a vehicular accident of sufficient severity to warrant referral to the emergency departments of a general hospital. The objective is to investigate, in an open study, the effectiveness of the combined use of computer generated environments involving driving games (game reality [GR]) and a virtual reality (VR) driving environment in exposure therapy for the treatment of driving phobia following a motor vehicle accident (MVA) program. Fourteen subjects who met DSM-IV criteria for Simple Phobia/Accident Phobia and were referred from the emergency department of a general hospital were exposed to a Virtual Driving Environment (Hanyang University Driving Phobia Environment) and computer driving games (London Racer/Midtown Madness/Rally Championship). Patients who experienced "immersion" (i.e., a sense of presence with heightened anxiety) in one of the driving simulations (defined as an increase in SUD ratings of 3 and/or an increase of heart rate > 15 BPM in a 1-h trial session of computer simulation driving) were exposed to a cognitive behavioral program of up to 12 1-h sessions involving graded driving simulation tasks with self-monitoring, physiological feedback, diaphragmatic breathing and cognitive reappraisal. Subjects were assessed at the beginning and end of therapy with measurements of: physiological responsivity (heart rate), subjective ratings of distress (SUD), rating scales for severity of fear of driving (FDI), Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (CAPS) and depression (HAM-D) and achievement of target behaviors. Of all patients 7/14 (50%) became immersed in the driving environments. This immersed group (n = 7) completed the exposure program. Pre- and post-treatment comparisons showed significant post treatment reductions on all measures SUDS (p = 0.008), FDI (p = 0.008), CAPS (p = 0.008), HR (p = 0.008), CAPS (p = 0.008), HAM-D (p = 0.031). Further analysis of the FDI showed significant reductions in all three subscales: travel distress (p = 0.008), travel avoidance (p = 0.008), and maladaptive driving strategies (p = 0.016). The findings of this study suggest that VR and GR may have a useful role in the treatment of driving phobia post-accident even when co-morbid conditions such as post-traumatic stress disorder and depression are present.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Accidents, Traffic / psychology*
  • Automobile Driving / psychology*
  • Computer Graphics*
  • Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders
  • Fear*
  • Female
  • Heart Rate / physiology
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Phobic Disorders / diagnosis
  • Phobic Disorders / etiology*
  • Phobic Disorders / therapy*
  • Photic Stimulation*
  • Therapy, Computer-Assisted / instrumentation*
  • Time Factors
  • User-Computer Interface*
  • Video Games*