There is no excuse for not knowing how to drive a manual transmission. Twenty years ago, maybe, fifty years ago, certainly, but not now, not in this day and age. The mode of gear selection preferred by automotive enthusiasts the world over should no longer cause the palms of the general public to sweat, it should make them want to go for a spirited drive.
Sadly, that is not the case, far from it in fact. A vehicle equipped with 3 pedals has been becoming an increasingly rare thing for sometime now, and we have no one to blame but ourselves. For who but us, the automotive enthusaist community, is going to spread the gospel of the manual? Nobody. Nobody is going to help. Generally speaking, people are lazy, now more than ever. As the dawn of the mass market autonomous car draws ever closer, one might say that the manual transmission in already in its death throes. If someone were to say that to me, I’d have a good laugh about it, and then argue with them until I was blue in the face.
The manual transmission will not, cannot, and must not die. If it was to cease to be, to exist no more, to be removed from the equation, well that would be the end of the automobile as we know it.
There are a number of people out there who think that would be a good thing, many of them reside in Silicon Valley, or some other place completely detached from reality. For those of us living here on planet earth, we know that a 3rd pedal does so much more than disengage the clutch, it brings us closer to the machines we operate. Without that visceral connection, what makes the act of driving interesting? Some of you might say speed, and while I’m completely addicted to the sensation of going fast, I’m more addicted to the process of getting achieving that sensation. It’s been said many times, but it’s always worth repeating, “more fun to drive a slow car fast, than a fast car slow”. I’d go a step further, and say, “more fun to drive a slow car with a manual transmission, than a fast car with an automatic”.
I realize that I’m in the minority, and I feel fortunate to have driven such a wide variety of vehicles that I can fully stand behind what I’m about to say…
When the autonomous car does arrive, automatic transmissions should die.
Now before you go down to the comments to tell me what a moronic luddite I am, hear me out.
Manual transmissions have become really, really, ridiculously easy to operate. Most people who are afraid of learning how to drive stick have 3 basic fears; 1.) Repeatedly stalling in front of their friends, 2.) Long term ridicule as a result of number 1, and 3.) Having to execute the dreaded hill start. While I think numbers one and two are actually necessary in terms of the rites of passage, number three doesn’t really apply anymore thanks to the magic of hill-start-assist. Sure, if you have to learn on an older vehicle you’ll likely burn to clutch out a few times, but that’ll only make you a more well rounded driver of manuals. Besides, if you live in one of the many predominately flat parts of the world, you don’t have to worry about number three, so again, no excuse.
Considering how forgiving clutches, and gearboxes on even extreme performance oriented vehicles have become, one might wonder why anyone would opt for an automatic. Sometimes there’s no choice to be made with fewer, and fewer high performance marquees offering a manual option, but that’s not the only reason. We live in a free market country, a country where anyone with enough money can go out and buy a Lamborghini. There is no special licensing process for performance cars, but I can’t imagine that will remain the case as we move towards autonomous vehicles. Frankly, putting restrictions on what vehicles people can buy would be a great idea, but in a country that sees driving as a right, not a privilege, I don’t see that happening.
The best course of action would to be to make people better drivers by encouraging them to respect the process and engage on a more profound level. And what’s the easiest way to achieve both of those things? Kill automatic transmissions. If you want to operate your own vehicle, then you have to actually operate your own vehicle. No more putting your foot on the brake, turning the key, and putting a car in D. If all you want to do is get from point A to point B, then the autonomous car will be for you. In the meantime, I’d like to remind you that your current vehicle is not autonomous, despite all the safety features. It still relies on the decisions that you, the driver, are making in order to get around safely. I frequently see people forgetting that this is the case, and am mortified that distracted driving kills more than 9 people a day in the United States. I’m not going to sit here and say that manual transmissions are the answer to the distracted driving problem, but I have to think that they would certainly help. The more engaged a driver is, the less likely they are to do anything other than focus on the task at hand, which when you’re in the drivers seat should be keeping yourself, and other motorists on the road, as safe as is humanly possible.
Did I just say motorists? Jeez I’m getting old.
Contrary to what you might think, I didn’t just pull all of this out of thin air like some people do. I was making my way through some hellacious stop and go LA traffic the other day, when I saw someone in the next lane applying makeup, while talking on the phone. No, there was not an accident as a result of this person’s sheer idiocracy , not that I saw anyway. It did get me thinking though, about my own driving habits, and why I drive in the first place. I’m fortunate to not need a vehicle, and yet I have one, a sporty two door with a manual transmission, in a city with awful traffic. Many people often point to that last bit as the reason why they don’t have a manual, too much of a pain in the ass in a major metropolitan area.
Yeah, it’s more work to drive a manual in a city, but operating a vehicle should be work. The cognitive process of selecting a gear is what makes driving enjoyable, even if it eventually becomes just another piece of muscle memory. With how good manual transmissions are these days, driving stick should become 2nd nature far more quickly than it would have in the past. There is no reason why anyone shouldn’t know how to do it, whether they’re just getting their license, or have been driving for 50+ years, if you have feet and hands, you should know how. If you’re completely dead set against manual transmissions, that’s ok, I understand, I have things I’m not willing to try either, like cow tongue, or listening to Yanni. But please, if you’re one of these people do us all a favor, be present when you’re driving, and when autonomous cars do arrive, hand over your keys. Relinquishing control to the machines will make the roads much safer for the rest of us who want to enjoy our odd little hobby of operating a motor vehicle.