Friday, August 03, 2007


gephyrophobia (pronounced: JEFF-i-ro-FO-bee-uh) "bridge phobia"

At a conference last summer, I met a woman who had bridge phobia. Bridges and overpasses. She could not drive over a bridge. She was pretty open about it. She was talking about it in the bar with other delegates gathered round. I guess she couldn't deny it, because at the same conference the previous year she had a team of people working out how she could drive from the venue back to her home without crossing a bridge. It was apparently a lengthy and circuitous journey - crossing the breadth of England - but no bridges.

On the way to the seminar apparently she'd suffered a trauma when she'd come to some kind of large flyover outside Birmingham. She'd had to stop her car on the motorway hard shoulder and just wait - I assume trembling and trying to work up the courage to drive across. Some kind soul stopped and after a little discussion and perhaps a tearful admission, this young fellow drove her car across the bridge.

Now, how's that for a phobia? You can't drive over a bridge, but you'll let a random person drive your car with you in it. (Coincidentally, she emailed me not too long ago with an opening line - "I don't know if you remember me..." and I thought to myself: Of course, I do - you're the bridge freak. )


Apparently, she's not alone. Loads of people have bridge phobia. According to an ABC News article:

Bridge phobia is more common than many may think; more than 4,000 people per year relinquish control of their vehicles and let state officers drive them across the Chesapeake Bay Bridge in Maryland, for example.

"Their fear is not that the bridge is going to collapse; their fear is that they will get halfway across and freeze or drive off the bridge," says Jerilyn Ross, president of the Anxiety Disorder Association of America

Although, apparently bridge failure or the thought of bridge failure can trigger a lifelong anxiety, one London sufferer of gephyrophobia said:

His fear of bridges began suddenly when, in his early teens, he was walking across a footbridge over a stream near his hometown of Cookham in the Thames Valley "Halfway across a friend mentioned that bridges were dangerous and could collapse. I had never thought about it before, but suddenly became very nervous as I became conscious about the danger".

Some friend....thanks, buddy.


Of course, a phobia is supposed to be an irrational fear. But now, following the horrific bridge collapse in Minnesota, the phobia doesn't seem quite so irrational and a bridge doesn't seem like a thing that poses no actual danger.

And there are loads of creaky ol' bridges (i.e. structurally deficient) in the US. Via TGW:

Scores of ‘Deficient’ Bridges | 9:44 AM The Department of Transportation’s 2005 judgment that the bridge was “structurally deficient” has emerged as one of the most prominent signs of a missed signal of an impending disaster. But there are many, many more bridges with that rating, according to a 2006 count by The Federal Highway Administration. Minnesota alone has 1,135 bridges on the list of “Deficient Bridges,” and other states have thousands more. Check your state against the “SD” column on this spreadsheet.

According to the very long list of crumbling infrastructure, Tennessee has 1,324 structurally deficient bridges


genderist said...

We went to school with a girl who was afraid of butterflies.

In my world that was more than irrational...

Furrow said...

My mother has always had a fear of bridges. I don't know if it's quite at phobia level, but she whimpers a lot when ever she has to cross one.

On a trip a few months ago, she managed to cross the 20 mile Chesapeake Bay Bridge. She was really proud of herself. I have a feeling this Minneapolis thing might set her back, though.

KathyF said...

I think they should erect signs: "Warning: Structurally deficient bridge". Then people could decide for themselves if they want to cross it or not.

Imagine how quickly that infrastructure problem would move up the priority list then.