Why are there so many “unconscious incompetent” drivers?

On Behalf of | Sep 25, 2023 | Car Accidents

If the term “unconscious incompetent” doesn’t fill you with confidence, it will be disturbing to learn that’s how safety professionals classify most drivers. If you’ve recently been injured in a crash caused by another driver, you may agree with that assessment.

What does “unconscious incompetent” mean, and why does it describe so many drivers (including professional drivers)? Why do people who once went through driver’s training – and maybe are routinely reevaluated – fail to follow safe driving practices?

What does “unconscious incompetence” mean?

The term refers to drivers who place themselves and others at risk without realizing it or being aware of the potential consequences. That typically happens when people have so far escaped consequences. 

Those unsafe behaviors become part of their everyday driving. They don’t roll through stop signs or change lanes without looking because they’re trying to live on the edge. They just haven’t had a collision yet.

Transitioning to “unconscious competence”

Some driver safety courses focus on first assessing what kind of driver someone is and then teaching them to be “unconscious competents.” Not everyone starts at the unconscious incompetent level. Some have what’s called “conscious incompetence.” They know the right thing to do but choose not to do it. 

The goal is to first raise them to what’s called “conscious competence.” That means they know the safe thing to do but still must make a conscious decision to do it. It doesn’t come naturally. Anyone who’s taken a refresher driving class is familiar with this feeling after developing some bad habits over the years. 

The ultimate goal is “unconscious competence.” That’s doing the right thing without actively thinking about it – like naturally stopping at stop signs and looking both ways before proceeding. That may happen only after a lot of practice – especially if you’re ridding yourself of “unconscious incompetent” behaviors.

How does this help you?

So what good is knowing all this if you’ve already been hit by an “incompetent” driver? It can help to realize that there are a lot more of them out there, and they may not be the people you’d expect to be reckless. It could be a middle-aged woman driving a luxury sedan.

It can also help to realize that it’s never too late to develop unconscious competence, which can help you avoid becoming the victim of another incompetent driver in the future. In the meantime, it’s important to make sure you get the justice and compensation you deserve from any at-fault driver to cover your medical bills and other costs and damages.



FindLaw Network
Nathan A. Cobb