Obsessive compulsive disorder - OCD treatment and therapy from NOCD

Fears about Hit and Run in False Memory OCD

By Carnice McFarland, PsyD.

Oct 21, 20226 minute read

Reviewed byTaylor Newendorp

Hit and Run OCD involves fears about being involved in a hit-and-run accident. OCD causes intrusive thoughts that convince you that you hit someone while driving and left the scene of the accident. You understand that a hit and run can have serious and severe consequences, from causing bodily harm to another person that can be fatal, to having to serve time in jail. Because of these fears, you may retrace your steps to make sure you didn’t hit anyone, drive slowly, avoid certain areas while driving, or avoid driving altogether. You may even check for news stories about hit and runs that you may have caused or been involved in, looking for reassurance that you were not at fault. 

As disturbing as it is to think about, your mind gets caught up in a continuous cycle of intrusive “what if” thinking. You may even have intrusive images related to these fears. Many people who struggle with hit-and-run OCD feel almost fully convinced of the false memories that OCD creates. No matter how much checking you do or reassurance you get, it’s difficult to break out of the OCD cycle—in fact, these behaviors reinforce the cycle by providing short-term relief from anxiety while doing nothing to keep doubts and fears from returning, since uncertainty always exists in some form. 

The best way to break this vicious cycle is exposure and response prevention (ERP) therapy. ERP involves working with an OCD specialist to identify obsessions and compulsions that keep you stuck and perpetuate the cycle, then doing exercises called exposures so you learn to accept uncertainty and anxiety without engaging in compulsions for short-term relief.

Fear of hit and run OCD – Common obsessions

  • Did I hit someone while driving?
  • What if I’m going to be arrested because I hit someone and left the scene?
  • I don’t remember if I hit someone or not 
  • I’m the person who is responsible for the hit-and-run I just heard about 
  • I could have caused a major accident or killed someone
  • What was that bump in the road?
  • What if I caused a hit-and-run in the past and don’t remember?

Do these thoughts sound familiar? Learn how you can overcome them.

As an OCD specialist, I know how overwhelming OCD symptoms can be—and how hard it is to open up about your experience. You’re not on your own, and you can talk to a specialist like me who has experience treating OCD.

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Common triggers

People with Hit and Run OCD may be triggered by situations involving watching the news, driving, hitting a bump on the road while driving, seeing pedestrians, cyclists, and other cars on the road, driving in adverse road conditions such as heavy rain, detours, and other scenarios connected to driving.

Triggers for people with Hit and Run OCD include:

  • Hearing news stories of hit and run accidents 
  • Feeling the vehicle go over rough terrain or a pothole in the road 
  • Seeing pedestrians while driving 
  • Driving in adverse conditions 
  • Feeling distracted while driving near pedestrians

How can I tell if it’s hit and run OCD, and I’m not simply a cautious driver?

Some people who experience Hit and Run OCD have difficulty determining whether their thoughts are obsessions or if they are just highly careful and cautious drivers. We all want to be safe drivers on the road; however, Hit and Run OCD is characterized by intrusive thoughts and images that cause anxiety or distress. If you have Hit and Run OCD you will find it difficult to control these worries and you may become preoccupied with them, making it difficult to focus on the things that are important to you. 

With Hit and Run OCD, you may become doubtful of your own memories, and misattribute the cause of a hit and run accident you learn about to yourself. A good way to start to recognize obsessions is that they tend to be irrational and excessive, and that you feel a strong urge to engage in behaviors to reduce uncertainty about them. For example, you may see a speed bump in the road but once you have passed that speed bump, you become anxious, wondering if it was actually a speed bump or if it was something else. In response to this you may feel compelled to look around to check, or to circle around the block “just to be sure.” Feelings and behaviors like these are hallmarks of OCD.

Common compulsions

When people with Hit and Run OCD experience intrusive thoughts, images, feelings, or urges that cause distress, they may feel compelled to seek reassurance from themselves or others  to help ease their fears. They might check the news reports of any hit and run accidents in their area, check their vehicle for any evidence that they have been involved in a hit-and-run that they may have forgotten about, or check their bumper for any dents or scratches. They may avoid driving or limit driving to “safe” places that won’t trigger their anxiety as badly. 

Compulsions performed mentally or physically by people with Hit and Run OCD include:

  • Checking to make sure they didn’t hit someone
  • Avoiding driving in areas where there might be pedestrians
  • Checking news stories to see if there have been any hit and run accidents near them
  • Driving around areas several times to make sure they haven’t hit anyone 
  • Mentally reviewing: “Replaying” scenes in their mind of driving to “check” if they can remember hitting anyone
  • Seeking reassurance from others that they haven’t hit anyone
  • Insisting on driving with others in the car, or insisting that others drive
  • Avoiding driving in the dark or in new areas
Hit and Run OCD can be debilitating for people who struggle with it, but it is highly treatable. By doing exposure and response prevention (ERP) therapy, members who experience Hit and Run OCD can start to recognize their obsessions as excessive and differentiate between safe driving and the anxious distress that obsessions and compulsions can create. Members can learn the skills they need to accept uncertainty about their obsessions and begin to break the cycle that is created by obsessions and compulsions. By identifying triggers and using them in a productive way to challenge their fears directly, people find that they are able to sit with the anxiety and uncertainty they feel in response to intrusive thoughts about hit-and-runs, and can live and drive with greater confidence and comfort.

If you’re struggling with OCD, As an OCD specialist, I’ve used ERP to help many people regain their lives from OCD. I encourage you to learn about NOCD’s accessible, evidence-based approach to treatment with the NOCD care team to learn how a licensed therapist can help. At NOCD, all therapists specialize in OCD and receive ERP-specific training. ERP is most effective when the therapist conducting the treatment has experience with OCD and training in ERP.

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