What is Hit and run OCD?

hit and run ocd - man retracing route
Dr Elaine Ryan
Written by Dr Elaine Ryan Psychologist and Founder of MoodSmith® Elaine obtained her Dr in Psychology from the University of Surrey and has worked in psychology for 20 years. Dr Ryan specialises in Intrusive Thoughts, OCD and anxiety-related conditions.

Hit and run OCD is a type of obsessive-compulsive disorder. It includes an irrational fear or obsession of accidentally causing a car accident. This could be because someone has been in an accident before, or they are afraid of being responsible for someone else’s death.

Hit and run OCD

Hit and Run OCD is a type of OCD that causes people to fear hitting, injuring, or killing a pedestrian while driving. They may check their vehicle for damage and avoid driving or driving in certain places and conditions. They often go to great lengths to do so. This point is explained well in a case study by the International OCD Foundation.

Like many forms of OCD, people with hit-and-run OCD experience the need to check and recheck their actions. This checking follows obsessive thoughts such as did I run someone over? The need to check is a compulsive behaviour, to ease their anxiety about the thought that they could have run someone or something over and not be aware of it.

The cornerstone of OCD is to have both obsessions and compulsions and with hit-and-run OCD, the obsessions are the thoughts about a car accident, and the compulsions are the checking.

Obsessions in hit-and-run OCD

  • Did I run someone over and not notice?
  • Did I cause an accident and didn’t know?
  • Will the police come to my door as I failed to stop at an accident, as I did not see it?
  • Will I go to jail?
  • Could I have hit a car in the car park and not know it?

False memory OCD

A false memory is where you remember something that did not happen

Compulsions in Hit-and-Run OCD

  • Retracing their driving route to make sure there were no accidents.
  • Checking their mirrors too often while driving to make sure they did not cause any accidents.
  • Asking people travelling in the car with them did they hit anything; needing reassurance, as they cannot trust their own senses.
  • Avoid driving in places they consider high risk and are more likely to cause accidents, such as busy roads, motorways, the fast lane and busy car parks.
  • Not being able to drive alone as they need someone with them to corroborate there were no accidents.
  • Avoiding driving at night or in the rain.
  • Driving below the speed limit. This helps reduce anxiety, as it gives drivers more time to react if they see an obstacle in their path.
  • Avoiding Tv or news coverage of accidents out of fear of being triggered.

Difference between being anxious about driving and having hit-and-run OCD

It’s difficult to tell the difference between being anxious about driving and having hit-and-run OCD. Here are some things you should know:

People with Hit & Run OCD will have thoughts they have caused an accident or injury when there are no signs of an accident or injury. People who are anxious while driving are more focused on the present moment. Their anxiety is related to their driving, as opposed to the fear that they could have hurt someone without knowing it.

People who experience panic attacks or have anxiety may feel more stress than usual while driving, but do not obsess that they could have caused an accident without realising it.

Treatment for Hit and Run OCD

CBT is an effective treatment for Hit and Run OCD. Exposure Response Prevention therapy can teach you how to avoid actions that worsen the disorder while exposing you to situations that worsen it.

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