STUDY: With Each Decade That Passes, Fewer People Report Knowing How to Drive Stick Shifts Staff Staff

With news in 2019 that more electric cars had sold than those with manual transmissions, and growing calls on social media to #SaveTheManuals, the automobile research team thought it would be interesting to take a look at trend lines for how many people know how to drive a stick.

The research team took a survey of 2,074 U.S. residents, asking them how confident they are when it comes to driving a manual transmission vehicle and found some interesting trends.

Survey Findings:

  • 69.6% of drivers say they are “somewhat” or “very” confident driving a stick shift.
  • The younger the person is, the less likely it is they know how to drive a stick shift.
  • 74.3% of drivers 55 years and older say they are confident driving a stick shift.
  • 60.1% of drivers under 35 years old say they are confident driving a stick shift.
  • As many car manufacturers continue to deprioritize manual transmission production, and drivers education programs deprioritize education, this decline speeds up exponentially.
  • Less than 20% of drivers under 35 would consider buying a manual transmission.
  • The team estimates within 25 years, less than 10% of drivers under 35 will be familiar with manual transmission operation.

The trend of younger generations being less likely to know how to drive a manual transmission is one that the auto research team believes will continue to increase.

First, many major car companies have deprioritized manufacturing manual transmission cars at scale. Only 13% of car models are now available with manual transmission according to data obtained by CNBC and Edmunds. Car makers report that demand for manual transmission is drastically decreasing, creating little incentive to focus resources building them for the broad market.

Where Did The Demand Go? 

The second reason people are less likely to know how to drive a stick comes down to attention. Driving a stick shift takes far more focus than an automatic transmission where it is far easier to “just drive,” as one person we spoke with said. People often report feeling more attentive to the road while operating a manual transmission, as it requires them to more closely focus on the driving itself, but this isn’t something many people want while driving anymore.

While it isn’t popular to admit, many drivers report being more distracted now than ever. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reports 2,841 people were killed by distracted driving in 2018 and 2.9% of drivers used a handheld cell phone while driving in 2017. Besides phones, newer technology in cars now creates more distractions than any time previous. More knobs, dials and screens all require attention on things other than shifting gears at the right time.

“I love the feel of a manual transmission when I want it, but most of the time I’m driving I don’t want to focus that much on the mechanics,” one person said in regards to why they won’t be buying a stick shift anytime soon. “It’s another thing I have to think about while driving.”

Future Trends researchers believe that there will be a continued decline in the comfort levels drivers have operating a manual transmission. At its current clip, this rate seems likely to fall somewhere between 10% and 15% in the coming decade of new drivers, and will start to rapidly decrease in generations following. The team estimates within 25 years, less than 10% of drivers will be familiar with manual transmission operation.

It seems safe to state that the above trend will continue, with new generations of drivers even less likely to feel comfortable driving stick shifts than their predecessors. While manual transmissions won’t ever die off completely, it will become even more of a niche skill than it already is, as more of a hobby akin to classic cars for people proactively seeking the experience out.

Survey Methodology

  • The survey collected 2,074 responses from U.S. residents asking them to assess their confidence in driving a manual transmission.
  • Survey conducted online January 2–7, 2021.

Image credit: F8 Studio / Shutterstock

About the Authors

The staff is dedicated to providing you with all the deep-dive details. Our writers, researchers, and editors came together from Charlotte, Seattle, San Juan, Fort Worth, Fort Lauderdale, San Diego, and Chicago to put this review together.