Can I get an amen here?


Driving a manual transmission is just better.

It’s better because it’s more fun. It’s better because it keeps you better tuned into the physics of your car. It’s better because people are less likely to steal your car, because they can’t figure out how to drive it.

And that “better” may have some real world payoffs in making us all safer.

Backup cameras, mandatory on all new cars as of last year, are intended to prevent accidents. Between 2008 and 2011, the percentage of new cars sold with backup cameras doubled, but the backup fatality rate declined by less than a third while backup injuries dropped only 8%.

That seems weird. And I do like my backup camera. Why aren’t they having more benefits? Well, the problem may be what I thought about last time I was in a car without one and found myself staring at the cassette player in the dashboard (yeah!) while I backed up for a couple of seconds: they make us inattentive. (And news flash,  backup cameras don’t see everything. You do still need to turn your head and look.)

A car with a stick shift and clutch pedal requires the use of all four limbs, making it difficult to use a cellphone or eat while driving. Lapses in attention are therefore rare, especially in city driving where a driver might shift gears a hundred times during a trip to the grocery store.

I’ve owned a stick-shift vehicle for the last 20 years. I bought my first upon graduating from med school — a used 1994 BMW 325i. Years later, my best man wrote “just married” on the back windshield, and the next year my wife and I drove our newborn son home from the hospital in it.

When I bought that first five-speed BMW, my dad cautioned me about safety, thinking that driving a stick would be more distracting and less safe. He was wrong. Though research on the safety of manual transmissions is scant, one study on the driving performance of teenage boys with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder revealed that cars with manual transmissions resulted in safer, more attentive driving than automatics. This suggests that the cure for our attentional voids might be less technology, not more.

So treat yourself to a standard transmission and experience actual driving.

One comment

  1. Completely agree! I no longer have a car, but I always drove a standard when I had one. Other than when you’re parallel parking in tight spots in dense urban neighborhoods, they’re way more fun. In the past couple of years, pretty much all of my friends and family (stalwart standard drivers) have slipped into automatic. Mostly it’s an availability decision: the makes and models they want no longer come with manual transmission. Sigh. Guess it will all be moot soon enough, once the autonomous vehicles hit the highways…


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