Death of the gearstick? Advances in technology mean fewer Britons are learning to drive manual cars

The idea of crunching through the gears when taking off from the lights is becoming lost to advances in technology.

A new analysis reveals that the number of people taking their driving test in an automatic car has more than trebled in a decade.

At the same time more than 70 per cent of new cars registered in 2023 were automatic.

The shift comes against the background of the rise of electric cars and a decision by manufacturers to drop gearboxes from conventional vehicles.

As a result, most new models now operate in the same way as a bumper car or milk float – albeit with startling speed from a standing start.

A new analysis reveals that the number of people taking their driving test in an automatic car has more than trebled in a decade

Almost 1.7 million people took their driving test last year with 324,000 – 19 per cent – in cars with automatic gearboxes.

That is more than three times higher than the 96,000 automatic tests, which accounted for 7 per cent of the total, seen ten years ago.

The figures have been collated by What Car? who argue that the ability to drive a car using the gear stick is becoming a lost art.

It said: ‘New car model range and sales data shows that just 24 per cent of new mainstream cars on sale are available with a manual gearbox, a figure which is likely to tumble further in the coming years.

‘The shift away from learning in manual cars could continue to accelerate, with automatic cars representing 71.3 per cent of registrations in 2023 compared with 28.7 per cent or cars with manual gearboxes.’

It said the rise of automatic cars means it is easier – and cheaper – for people to learn to drive because they will not need to spend hours learning clutch control and hill starts.

Despite that, What Car? found that the pass rate for automatic cars is lower than for manuals. It said this is because learners in autos tend to take their test before they have gained as much on-road experience and road safety awareness.

Signs of the change also come from driving instructors, where demand for cars with automatic gearboxes is increasing. Data from the AA Driving School shows that in 2023, more than a third of people training to be an instructor with the AA chose an automatic vehicle rather than a manual.

What Car? consumer editor, Claire Evans, said: ‘Any enthusiast will tell you that for sheer driving pleasure, manual gearboxes always win. However, on many mainstream models, manual gearboxes will soon be a thing of the past.

‘The popularity of automatic gearboxes is partly down to manufacturers and engineering trends, as well as the increase in demand for electric cars, which don’t need traditional gearboxes.

‘And many younger drivers clearly don’t see the need to learn to drive a manual given that they are slowly being phased out.’