Manual driving tests set for extinction by 2040

Male hand changing gear in the car

Official DVLA data has shown a 270% increase in driving tests in an automatic car over the last decade. Highlighting the rate of acceleration, analysis by Adrian Flux has found that tests in automatics have soared to 324,064 in 2023 alone. This is a significant and rapid increase as an average of 1.7m annual practical tests were conducted over the last decade. This trend is set to continue as 61% of young drivers are opting for automatic only practical tests.

Based on this, and other factors such as the decline of manual vehicle sales, one of the UK’s largest specialist motor insurance brokers predicts that almost a million automatic driving tests (920,154) will be conducted in 2033, and tests in a manual could be obsolete by 2040.

This means that Gen Z might be the last generation to learn how to drive with a manual transmission. With the upcoming Gen Beta (born 2025 – 2039) potentially the first generation to learn exclusively in automatic cars.

Research from the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT), and published by carwow, shows that just 24% of new cars sold in 2011 were ordered with an automatic gearbox. A decade later that percentage has nearly tripled to 62%. As automatics become more prevalent, instructors are predicted to make the shift towards automatic-only driving lessons to follow demand. This presents a challenge for future generations who wish to learn to drive manual vehicles, and accelerates the trend towards automatic transmission becoming the sole choice for new drivers.

Gerry Bucke, General Manager at Adrian Flux, comments, “Whilst automatic cars become more popularised, it’s important to acknowledge that there will still be some demand for driving manuals.‘’

As manual driving evolves into a specialised skill, the number of Brits licensed to drive manual vehicles is likely to decline, raising concerns for classic car communities. The potential disappearance of opportunities to learn to drive manually could contribute to a waning passion for manual classic cars, particularly among a new generation of drivers more accustomed to driving automatic vehicles.

However, while the driving landscape is destined to transform, Adrian Flux remains confident that the enduring passion of classic car communities will prevail with a new generation of enthusiasts. Classic cars will continue to be seen on our roads for various reasons, including the associated nostalgia, love for their style and design, and an appreciation for their mechanical simplicity. To best sustain these car communities, driving instructors and the DVSA must continue to make manual learning options available to meet this demand.

‘’We urge the government and DVSA to ensure that there is a future for the timeless classic cars through creating options for manual learning, even in an automatic landscape. These vehicles are not only a means of transport but a source of passion and community for many,’’ Gerry Bucke adds.

‘‘We want to ensure future learners have the opportunity to pursue their love for classic vehicles.”

The key factor that will prolong the availability of manual tests over the next 20 years will be new generations of drivers resisting the temptation of only learning to drive an automatic. If drivers continue to opt for manual lessons, driving instructors and the DVSA will be encouraged to continue offering this option.

Kevin Monk, Chief Executive Officer at Pass Me Fast comments on the benefits of learning to drive a manual transmission. “Passing your driving test in a manual car means you can drive both manual and automatic cars, so PassMeFast would recommend learning to drive in a manual car if you can.’’

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