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Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs and Heavy Vehicle Driving Instruction

Abraham Maslow, the American psychologist introduced the concept of a hierarchy of needs.

The concept has been revised, modified and clarified since it was first published in 1943. But the concept behind the hierarchy is still relevant to driving instructors today.

There have been some criticisms of Maslow’s hierarchy over the time since it was published. This article is not intended as a critique of Maslow’s work. It is intended to give Heavy Vehicle Driving Instructors some insight into the way that their students think and behave. And as a result of this, for instructors to reflect on their own training and how they can become more effective.


What is Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs?

The premise of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is that people have different types of needs. These needs go from very basic physical needs up to more complex growth needs. When a person’s lower-level needs are not met then it is difficult for them to be motivated to pursue their higher-order or growth needs. However, when these lower level needs are being met sufficiently, then they are able to pursue personal growth.

So, when a person meets their deficiency needs, then they are motivated to shift their focus to meeting their higher needs.

Anyone that is in a role where they are teaching people need their students to grow. Heavy Vehicle Driving Instructors need their students to learn new things. They need to take in what they are being taught and apply it. By using Maslow’s hierarchy, instructors can make this easier for both themselves and the students.


What Are Maslow’s Physiological needs?

There are two significant physical needs that people must have met before they can learn to drive a truck or a bus. They must have eaten and they must have slept. The first is obvious to us all. It’s very difficult to concentrate on an empty stomach. Unfortunately, many students are stressed before they start. This can lead to nausea and they choose not to eat. The Victorian Government has some helpful hints for fighting fatigue with food. The link is here.


The second physical need is rest. If the student is not well-rested they are a significant risk on the road. When students drive a heavy vehicle tired, they put their own lives and others’ lives at risk. The students should have had a good night’s sleep before they start their training.


When a student gets to the end of their training and they are ready for assessment they are often tired. This can be a barrier to them passing. Instructors should be vigilant in looking for cues to indicate that the student is fatigued. Physical signs can include yawning, staring at one spot and redness around the eyes. There are also cognitive signs, like poor concentration and poor decision making, and not checking mirrors as regularly as needed. These should all be warning signs to an instructor. Often the student won’t realise that they are tired until the instructor points it out to them. The instructor should allow the student to make an informed decision about whether the training and assessment should go ahead or be postponed.


Another simple thing instructors can do is to let the student set the temperature in the cab. If the student is comfortable (not too warm or too cold), they will find it easier to concentrate and learn.


What is Maslow’s need for Safety?

The second level in the hierarchy is safety. Driving a heavy vehicle is intimidating to many students. They don’t feel safe. They can feel a little unsafe behind the wheel. As an instructor, you can do two things to alleviate this fear of being unsafe. Part of the reason students may feel unsafe is because they are unfamiliar with the environment. By making the student familiar with the vehicle, including showing them where all the controls are, the student will feel more familiar and in control. The second thing instructors can do is to start their training in areas that are low risk. Choose areas with wide lanes, low-density traffic and very few complex intersections. If it’s available, try and start at an area without kerbs and guttering. These things will allow the student to feel like there is some margin for error in their driving. And as a result of that they will feel safer.

One more thing that can help is to remind them that, even though this is their first time driving, it’s not your first time instructing. By being reassuring and calming, you can help make them feel safe.

As the student becomes more competent and confident these fears should reduce.


What are Maslow’s Esteem needs?

The last of the deficiency levels is esteem needs. This is about how the student feels they are seen by themselves, and how they are seen by others. This can be the most difficult need to look after with a new student. As an instructor, you need to think carefully about the feedback that you give to students while they are learning.

The first thing to do is to set the student’s expectations of themselves. Tell them that they will make mistakes, but they are there to learn. Remind them that when a child is learning to walk, we don’t criticise them falling over, we praise every attempt and every success. They need to see themselves the same way. They are learning something new.

Instructors also need to consider the esteem of a student when giving feedback about their driving.

There are two equal but opposite errors instructors can make.

The first is being too callous in the way that they give feedback. The student may feel embarrassed or belittled if the criticism is too harsh. This will impact the way that they think you see them which impacts their esteem needs.

The second error is not giving honest feedback to the student. Instructors are setting the student up to fail in their final assessment if they are not honest. Each student is unique and needs to be treated that way. Feedback is not a “one size fits all” activity.

Students worry about what others will think of them. They will worry about failing the test and what their family, friends, and colleagues might say. They will also worry about what other road users will think. Even though they will most likely never see those other road users face to face, it plays on some students’ minds. Instructors should encourage the student to put these things aside and concentrate on driving. Explaining that driving in a mentally free and relaxed state leads to better driving may help.

By overcoming these deficiency needs Instructors can make a comfortable environment for the student to learn. In turn, this makes the Instructor’s job easier.


Maslow and Growth Needs

The last need that people have is growth. Students will have different reasons for getting a heavy vehicle licence. Some will be hoping to open up work opportunities. Others will want to get their licence just because it is on their “bucket list”. Whatever the reason is, it is part of the student growing as a person. The licence test is a rite of passage for people. Most people, regardless of their age, remember getting their licence as a teenager. An instructor may be involved in ten students getting their licence in a week, but for the individual student, it is a once in a lifetime event. Instructors should treat the licensing process as such.

If you are interested in becoming a Heavy Vehicle Driving Instructor, Intertrain can be part of that journey with you. Contact us for more information.