Jess Herbert Image copyright Ruediger Preiss
Image caption Jess Herbert chose to learn to drive in an automatic car after finding a manual vehicle ‘particularly difficult’

Learner drivers in Britain are increasingly turning to automatic vehicles instead of vehicles with manual gears, official data shows.

Figures from the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA) show the number of driving tests conducted in automatic cars has risen annually since 2012.

Overall, the vast majority of people are still learning to drive in cars with manual gearboxes.

But experts say the shift towards automatics is only likely to continue.

‘Quicker and easier’

Jess Herbert, 28, lives in Poole, Dorset and chose to learn to drive in an automatic car because she thought it would be “quicker and easier”.

“I had tried to learn at 18 in a manual car and found it particularly difficult,” she said. “I remember stalling all the time, forgetting what I needed to do and it was occupying part of my brain trying to remember to change gears.

“I appreciate when you know how to drive it’s all second nature, but when you’re learning, it’s not, and it was an obstacle for me.”

Three of Jess’ friends also learned to drive automatics in their late twenties – and they are far from alone.

‘Significant increase’

Data from the DVSA shows that in 2011-12 there were 70,429 driving tests conducted in automatic cars in Britain.

By 2018-19, that figure had risen to 185,043, an increase of 163%.

Manual, however, remains the predominant type of car drivers learn in. In total, more than 1.6m driving tests were conducted using both manual and automatic cars according to the most recent figures.

On the downside, drivers who pass their tests in manual cars are qualified to drive automatics as well as manuals, whereas those who pass in automatic cars can only drive automatics.

Image copyright Ruediger Preiss
Image caption Ruediger Preiss has seen a steady increase in learner drivers opting for automatic cars.

However, six of the 16 instructors at YES! School of Motoring in Dorset now teach learners in automatic cars.

Business owner Ruediger Preiss has noticed a “significant increase” in interest.

“We could still fill many more diaries with automatics. Basically the problem we are facing is not the interest from the learner side, but to get enough instructors to change to automatic,” he says.

‘Dying feature’

A ban on selling new petrol and diesel cars in the UK is expected to be introduced by 2035.

Electric cars all have automatic transmission.

That means it is “inevitable” that more drivers will wonder if it is worth the hassle of learning how to use a manual gearbox, according to Stuart Masson, the editor of the car finance website The Car Expert.

Image copyright Getty Images

He loves driving a manual car, but describes the manual gearbox as a “dying feature” which many more expensive cars already no longer offer as an option.

“We are seeing a lot more people who are older than 17 or 18 wanting to learn to drive and they’re less fussed about the mechanics of driving’, he says. “They don’t really care about driving they are just looking for the most efficient way to learn to drive and that is an automatic transmission”.

BBC Radio 4’s consumer programme, You & Yours, is broadcast every weekday from 12:18pm


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