Drivers shifting away from stick shifts

If you drive a stick shift, you’re fast becoming a rare breed.
Fewer young drivers are requesting lessons on how to use a manual transmission. (CBC)

If you drive a stick shift, you're fast becoming a rare breed.

The fact that so few people are driving stick shifts this week motivated the Young Drivers of Canada in Newfoundland and Labrador to discontinue teaching stick shift driving courses.

In Calgary, that's not the case, but there's definitely been a downshift in the number of standard drivers.

The popularity of the stick shift has been steadily declining in recent years and that trend is likely to continue, according to Phil Edmunston, consumer advocate and author of the Lemon-Aid series of books. He says just 10 per cent of the vehicles sold in North America have a manual transmission.

"The stick shift on autos is going the way of the dodo bird," said Edmunston.

In Calgary, the Alberta Motor Association's driving school has only two cars with a manual transmission — compared to almost 70 automatics.

Ron Wilson, a manager of driver education at the AMA, said over the past few years they're seeing a lot fewer people using manual transmission, likely because their parents didn't drive them either.

Edmunston says though there are no statistics to prove it, he believes if you are driving a stick you're driving more safely. "They are going to be less distracted; they aren't going to be texting, they aren't going to be on the phone because they need their hands free."

Though Wilson believes automatics and standards are equally safe, he doesn't condone new drivers start out learning a manual until they've mastered the automatic.

"We want new drivers to learn in an automatic first. The reason being there's a lot to learn in driving, from visual skills, to planning to control skills like speed control," said Wilson. Adding the stick and clutch into the mix just complicates things. "You're best to learn in an automatic first."

Meanwhile, Calgary's AMA will keep a couple of standard cars in its fleet and continue to teach people how to drive a stick shift, unlike Young Drivers of Canada programs in Newfoundland and Labrador, which this week cancelled its stick shift programs.

"As long as there is a need for it, we'll continue to provide standard transmission," said Wilson.