My driver’s ed instructor told my class:
You never have the right of way.
You can only yield the right of way.
Recalling this precept got me thinking about driver education / driver training, and that got me thinking about how people have very different readings for “training,” “education,” and “learning.”
Learning to drive is a good example of a complex skill (the kind van Merrienboër and Kirschner grappled with in Ten Steps to Complex Learning). We tend to think we know what the outcome of the education or training will be: a good driver.
But what’s that?
On the formal side, it’s really about passing requirements. If you’re an adult who moves to Maryland, for instance, you have to:
- Pass a vision test
- Have had an out-of-state license within the past year (no suspensions)
I’ve been driving for more than 40 years and have had licenses in four states, but I don’t recall taking more than one road test. Not that I’m eager to do so, but you do get the impression that if you pass it once, still drive, and haven’t lost your license, you’re doing okay.
Some of what vM&K would call constituent skills for driving are recurrent ones–how to start the car, how to stop, how to steer, how to recognize signals and respond to them. But there are many non-recurrent skills (things we do differently in each situation). The other day I was exiting a strip-mall parking lot, wanting to turn right onto the highway. An oncoming car on that highway had its right turn signal on.
Did that mean he’d be turning into the lot I was exiting? How could I tell? How could I help a novice driver figure that out?
In writing about this, I’m seeing more clearly that there’s also an overlap of stakeholders: the general public (represented by the state) wants the roads to be safe; new drivers want to be able to drive; parents want their children to drive safely.
They might not even agree on the outcome. Is it “status as skilled driver” or simply “holder of a driver’s license?” Is “skilled” the same as “safe?”
(I can answer that one: no. Just take a drive through heavy traffic with someone who prides himself on what a skillful driver he is.)
Maryland’s Motor Vehicle Adminstration publishes a skills log and practice guide “to help the new drives gain valuable experience in operating a motor vehicle in a variety of conditions and highway environments.” Maryland now requires 60 hours of supervised driving prior to taking the tests, with 10 of those hours at night. The parent, guardian, or mentor of the new driver must sign a statement attesting to this, in addition to the 6 hours of behind-the-wheel instruction in the mandatory driver education course.
I like the guide (other than the mid-60s bureaucratic tone of the writing). A “planning guide” (on the right; click for a larger version) summarizes skills; individual sections amplify them with descriptions, examples, and checklists.
Because of the state’s interest in having competent drivers, it makes sense for the state to have created this. Is 60 hours the right amount? Are these skills the right skills? Will parents or guardians follow the guide, or simply certify that they had?
I can’t say–and, frankly, neither can you. This is a complex skill; there’s no one right answer. I think you can make a case that most of the skills in the guide are basic ones for a competent driver. At the same time, no test is going to guarantee that a new driver, or even an experienced one, will never have an accident. (I’d settle at times for “will not talk on the phone while driving.”)