Maybe, just maybe, it's safer and better for every road user if we all know how the gears that make the wheels go round ratchet up.

There are an increasing number of endangered species in this turbulent world of ours, but none is rushing to extinction faster than the driver who can get from A to B in a stick-shift car. The art of mastering how to navigate through the H-gate is almost completely lost on the latest generation of car buyers. It's a troublesome and worrying thing.

Today's story, dear reader, is not a rant about how stick is the purest form of driving and needs preserving at all costs – like some enthusiast magazines who like cars and drivers might banner wave over – this is a thought that maybe, just maybe, it's safer and better for every road user if we all know how the gears that make the wheels go round ratchet up.

You don't learn to ride a horse without knowing how the reins work and you don't sail a boat without understanding the rigging. Yet we see a driving license as a birthright, and it's an automatic assumption we can drive a car.

If you have a teenager learning to drive right now, wouldn't you prefer they were taught to be more like the pilot of that mechanical masterpiece rather than the autopilot passenger?


Geoff Day has been called the "Pied Piper" of the auto industry, leading auto journalists on wild rides around the globe in his position as former director of communications for Mercedes-Benz USA. Before that, he worked at DaimlerChrysler UK on its PR efforts, and rubbed elbows with the Queen of England in his role at the Buckingham Palace Press Office. His phone is filled with the numbers of the great, the good and the bad. His head is filled with dirty little secrets hiding in many corners of the auto industry.


I can still vividly remember riding shotgun with my dad as an 11-year-old boy and being utterly mesmerized by the way his feet could dance across three pedals in perfect synchronization with his left arm pushing and pulling a metal stick. (I was raised in the land of right-hand drive, remember.) I thought there was no way I could ever learn how to so dexterously coordinate my limbs in a way that could ever get me out of the driveway and off into distance.

Perhaps you get a better appreciation of time when you know how the watch works, and so I believe, it is with cars.

That skill set seemed like an Olympic task to me, yet a few years later and after many hours of gear crunching and clutch mashing, I walked into a Scottish driving test center and emerged 30 minutes later with a license to thrill. I had cracked that the left hand connected to the gear shift, the left foot connected to clutch pedal and the right foot connected to the other two – ah, dem bones, dem bones.

My concern here is that the way we currently teach our youth how to move a two-ton piece of hardware around our neighborhoods should be based on the fact that driving is a skill of degrees, where you learn the process of what's going on underneath the hood first. It's about an appreciation of how the thing works, not just the result of what it does. Perhaps you get a better appreciation of time when you know how the watch works, and so I believe, it is with cars.

A good dose of healthy respect for the mechanicals and developing a one-on-one relationship with them makes for a better, safer and more considerate driver. If your first driving skill is easily being able to go straight to D and have the old girl do all the work, then it makes for very lazy and selfish drivers. A little ability in automotive foreplay, where you learn how to feather the clutch, slickly slip your stick in and out of the gate and then push a little harder on the precious pedal to get her turning over surely makes for a more organic driving experience.

Having gears to play with also means you need to concentrate more, which means less time to text, adjust makeup or daydream about a bathing-suit-clad Kate Upton in outer space.

Having gears to play with also means you need to concentrate more, which means less time to text, adjust makeup or daydream about a bathing-suit-clad Kate Upton in outer space.

Think about it, we should require our new drivers to learn on a manual transmission and to pass their test with a stick-shift car and then spent the first year of driving in three-pedal heaven. If we did, then perhaps they would see the car not as a moving clubhouse, where you tweet, text and twerk 'til you get there, but as a tamed beast to treat with respect during the journey.

Those crucial first months are when teen driving accidents happen most. And given that 23-percent of all car accidents – that's a staggering 1.3 million a year – are texting-related, then doing something else with your hands might just save a few lives. Oh, by the way, that's how it's done in most European countries and their accident stats are reassuringly lower than ours.

A part of me thinks that changing our driving ed and testing rules would be welcomed by our learners. After all, they are thrilled to go watch actors work a manual tranny in Fast and Furious 57, or put the gearbox through its paces in the Need for Speed Rivals video game – it's cool and clever. Surely if you can buy a fake stick shift for your video driving game, why would you not want to learn how to do the real thing?

If we mandated licenses linked to stick-shift cars, I can guarantee there would suddenly be plenty of choices on the forecourt.

Getting a driving license by only ever driving automatics is a bit like learning to ride a bike with training wheels on, expect most drivers never take the baby wheels off. It's time to learn to read the manual. And car companies, please don't give me the guff about nobody wants manuals, which is why even Ferrari doesn't offer one anymore. If we mandated licenses linked to stick-shift cars, I can guarantee there would suddenly be plenty of choices on the forecourt.

We just need to get our act in gear. Perhaps the Oval Office should be more concerned with how the next generation get a true driver's skill set than whether or not to deport Justin Beiber back to Canada. (He's a person who perfectly examples the "if I have a license, I can drive a Lambo" mentality.) It's time to buckle up for a manual revival, and not because of an elitist enthusiast agenda but because it will save lives, make our roads safer and, alright, yes, it's way more fun diving into the gearbox than paddle shifting around the steering wheel.


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  • 275 Comments
      Jim R
      • 10 Months Ago
      You want someone to blame for the death of the stickshift? That's on YOUR generation--the boomers. You're the ones that drive the market, not millenials or Gen X/Y. You're the ones that demanded every car have an automatic transmission and you're the reason nobody knows how to drive stick anymore.
        BG
        • 10 Months Ago
        @Jim R
        Of course you are right. We brought stupidity and laziness on ourselves.
      Eric Lemon
      • 10 Months Ago
      I have to blame my sister for my love of manual transmissions. When I was still in my single digits, she let me shift the transmission for her in her 1973 RX-3. I would watch her feet while she accelerated and time the shift to the movement of her left foot. I have been enamored ever since. Luckily my wife likes them too. It makes picking out a new car very easy. If it doesn't come with a manual, we don't even bother looking at it. Thanks sis!
      annette.testa
      • 10 Months Ago
      I have always driven a manual and I bought them later specifically to keep my kids away from my car, since I was a single mom and could not afford to have my car wrecked or higher insurance rates for teenage drivers. Not to mention that teaching someone to drive a stick usually means that the clutch usually gets blown out. Driving a stick in the hilly, congested area I live in is not easy, either, and unsafer than an automatic for a younger driver. I learned to drive a stick in a semi-rural area where there was room for error, and yes, I blew the clutch out - my boyfriend and I replaced it! The car was a 1965 Nova with a 3-speed on the column - NOT full syhchro, which meant that it had to be stopped to shift down to first gear! Can you imagine needing to shift down to first on the middle of a hill in Seattle? OMG it was hairy sometimes but I learned to drive like no tomorrow! Driving a stick is FUN!
        no1gum
        • 10 Months Ago
        @annette.testa
        Yours was the first logical reason I read for having a stick. Unfortunately, my son learned to drive a stick and wrecked my car. Driving a stick in hilly traffic is definitely an adventure. I had my first experience with that in Germany at a red light. Up until then, I was pretty confident with my stick/clutch skills, but I kept moving backwards. The driver in back of me got out and showed me the trick of putting on the emergency break. He was very nice about it. After that I worked on my clutch skills before I went out again.
      Serioso
      • 10 Months Ago
      Sooo... nothing about correlation vs. causation? If you found yourself a manual in today's automatic-laden world, you are probably the type to focus on the task of driving regardless of the transmission used.
      Patrick
      • 10 Months Ago
      Learning to drive with a stick shift is not going to solve the terrible driving problems we have. But I do believe that it would make some on the fence drivers to merge over into becoming a good driver. When I first heard about the self driving cars I couldn't understand why. Later I got it when I heard someone say that they did not like driving.
      John
      • 10 Months Ago
      I've driven stick for nearly 30 years. When I'm occasionally in an automatic, I completely hate it. I feel don't have true control over the car and notice that my attention definitely wanders much more than with the stick. A manual is not much fun in stop and go traffic, but beyond that it is enormously more engaging, enjoyable, and I think safe than a slushbox in even the most modest of cars.
      ChaosphereIX
      • 10 Months Ago
      I do agree that manuals would make us better drivers. You would have to pay attention to your car, not everything else and you are just along for the ride. Look at Europe, much better drivers than over here - they may be aggressive at times, but at least they know their cars and are paying attention to the road. I will never go back after learning to drive manual.
      joeboarder108
      • 10 Months Ago
      Sorry Geoff, I wouldn't put this all on the younger generation. As a mid 20-something who teaches college students, a solid 1/2 of my friends and 3/4 of the college students I work with drive stick in their daily driver. Sure, maybe I just see a highly unusual segment of the population, but I think most young people would like to (at least learn to) drive stick, they've just never had an opportunity. Those that have, generally prefer it. It's largely the fault of their parents, who drove stick as youths, but gave it up in favor of easy automatics, and have never given their children the opportunity to learn. If none of your friends and relatives have a stick you can practice on, you'll never learn, and never buy one for yourself.
        ilmhmtu
        • 10 Months Ago
        @joeboarder108
        Same here. More than half of the 20-somethings I know refuse to buy automatic cars.
      Zach's Father
      • 10 Months Ago
      My first car was an automatic. My first job I had to learn to use a clutch on a forklift. My second & third cars were VW beetles. Fun 4 speed cars. Then I had a manual BMW. Living in NYC and all the traffic takes all the fun out of a manual transmission. I like the idea that I can get into any vehicle and drive it!
      kolarcritters
      • 10 Months Ago
      As a machinist I totally understand this article. The numerical computer control (cnc) operators without manual machining experience struggle much more often when confronted with unexpected problems. A guy that mastered conventional machining knows how to identify and remedy those problems in little time whether on a cnc or conventional machine. With 35+ years in the trade on both types, I have found most cnc machinist's without manual experience mere operators. There are exceptions but they are far and few between. Excuse me but it's time I found a hole to bore!
      wikid74
      • 10 Months Ago
      Great article. I've been driving manual for over 30 years and the most important aspect of manual driving is how it teaches you to control car's momentum/balance via braking and correct gear selection. Ask any racer and they will tell you that racing is all about mastering momentum/balance. Knowing this greatly enhences control and makes for safer driving. An automatic to me is just on/off...there is a sense of disconnect which discouages learning this essential skill...it's either go or stop.
      MVShelby
      • 10 Months Ago
      I've been driving for over 55 years and all but 10 were exclusively with a manual. Damn sight right, a using a manual will put you in charge of the car, not vise a versa. It's wonderful to control a car, especially a Shelby.
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