The Levels of Competency and Learning to Drive


There are levels of competency that help us understand the process of learning a skill. Sometimes people think they are skilled at something like cooking or driving, when they really are not. One I am acutely aware of is the ability and skill to teach. There are educators that have gone to school and learned to become teachers and some are better than others. There are also people who have an innate ability to teach because they have empathy, the ability to read a student and know how to apply teaching tools and techniques to assist a student in their learning process.

This is key when it comes to teaching someone how to drive. Just because someone knows how to drive or knows the laws, does not mean they know how to teach someone how to drive. They may be able to teach them a few things about vehicle handling and enough to pass a test, but the ability to truly teach someone to be a safe, defensive, responsible driver, takes time, skill and talent.

Below is the description of the levels of competency. From the first level to the last, this is all of the natural learning process. We become aware, we learn, and then we master a skill.

Level 1 – Unconsciously Incompetent. basically, you don’t know what you don’t know. A novice driver may think they know more than they do because they’ve watched you, and of course, driving is “no big deal.” So when your teenager says to you during a practice drive, “I know mom or dad,” a good response to them would be, “you may know it, but now I need you to demonstrate that you know it.”

Level 2 – Consciously Incompetent – A student becomes aware that they don’t know everything and they actually have something to learn. We can often achieve this level of competence and learning in a simulation lab since we are able to put a student in a multitude of situations that they may or may not know how to handle. In simulation we can replay and a student learns from their mistakes and more importantly begins to recognize that there is actually more to learn to become a safe and responsible driver.

Level 3 – Consciously Competent – As a student begins to develop an understanding of the rules of the road and the application of those rules – they start to be conscious of what they are learning. For example, how to effectively execute a right or left turn, how to maintain their lane position, how to judge time and distance to make a safe left turn and so much more. A new driver spends a good amount of time at this level of learning, developing new skills and applying them.

Level 4 – Unconsciously Competent – This is the level where mastery has been achieved. The skills become second nature without really having to give it a great deal of thought. It will take a new driver thousands of miles to really achieve this level of competency so it is important for parents to make sure they continue to work with their teenager even after licensing. Learn more about teen driver training.

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Maria Wojtczak
Maria Wojtczak is Chief Operating Officer at DrivingMBA. She has extensive knowledge in teen brain development and has pioneered many techniques used to teach students at DrivingMBA. Her passion for teaching and saving teen lives has made her a leader in the driver training industry.


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