Rachman's theory of fear acquisition proposes that directly-conditioned fears will differ from indirectly-conditioned fears in magnitude and anxiety response patterns, however the theory has received inconsistent empirical support. The aim of the present study was to describe the fear acquisition pathways for a community sample who reported driving-related fears and to test Rachman's theory of fear acquisition. One hundred and ninety participants completed a questionnaire which assessed a variety of driving-related situations, reactions to motor vehicle accidents (MVAs) and anxiety response patterns. Professional psychological helpseeking and perceived need for treatment for driving-related fears were also assessed. Results failed to support Rachman's predictions. However, it was confirmed that respondents who had been involved in a MVA were more likely to ascribe their fears to a directly-conditioned pathway. The theoretical and methodological implications of the findings are discussed, along with suggestions for assessment of those with driving-related fears. Copyright (C) 1999 Elsevier Science Ltd.