When I got my driver’s license over ten years ago, my grandmother told me that everyone should have to learn how to drive a stick shift before they can drive an automatic. As she grew up during the Depression, manual transmission was the norm in cars, with automatics being relegated to high end luxury cars.
My grandmother was right. As a car enthusiast, it is simply more fun to drive a car by shifting into gear and pressing onto a clutch at the same time, especially when you’re speeding up. Manual transmissions are also cheaper to maintain and provide better fuel economy than an automatic. However, there is another benefit to driving a stick shift that people tend to forget about (myself included) when driving an automatic: it’s harder to get distracted while driving.
A lot of us use our cell phones while driving–in some cases illegally–for various tasks, risking an accident and possibly other people’s lives. It isn’t just cell phones either: how many more of us have gone through the drive-thru of a local fast food restaurant and started eating while driving? And let’s face it: some items are simply not practical to be eating while driving. I could think of various other things to get distracted from while driving, and it’s a whole lot easier to do it when you don’t have to worry about what gear you’re in.
My proposal, therefore, would be to make it mandatory to learn how to drive a stick shift in order to get a license in the United States. This isn’t a new idea, as many other parts of the world have such requirements. In some of those places, you can get a limited driver’s license if you pass the test with an automatic. However, an automatic is an expensive premium on a car in those markets, even more so than here where it’s typically $700-800 more to get an automatic on a brand new car than a manual. Laws are also set up where jobs that require driving of some sort must use a stick shift. In essence, people in those countries then have to teach themselves to drive a stick anyways in order to get a full license.
Of course, like any other driving-related law here in the U.S., it would have to be up for each state to implement such a system, and automatics would be by far more prevalent on used car lots for 10-15 years after such laws were to be passed and go into effect. But the federal government does have a precedent for getting states to change their own laws–does raising the drinking age to 21 in order to avoid federal highway funding cuts ring a bell?–and it could easily work with the automakers who have to deal with such regulations elsewhere by offering more manual transmissions in cars and making an automatic a much higher premium option, almost a luxury car option. I would, however, make some sort of compromise: family vehicles like minivans, SUV’s, and crossovers could still have automatics available at the current rate. Chances are, a younger driver isn’t going to want to drive a car that their mom drives.
Any suggestions on this proposal?