The driving test set to evolve as manual transmission disappears

The driving test looks set to be updated. In so doing it will ensure future generations are able to drive cars with a manual gearbox despite not taking their test in a manual.

Current legislation only allows people to drive manual cars if they passed their driving test in a manual. But with combustion engines being banned from 2030 this will become increasingly difficult. Hybrid and electric cars have a single forward gear and are classed as automatics for the test.

Evolution not revolution

The last update of the driving test in 2018 added the assessments of the ability to use a sat-nav. The DVSA told Auto Express magazine that it has begun to look at changes needed to reflect the different natures of electric and hybrid cars.

Gordon Witherspoon, deputy chief driving examiner, DVSA, said they constantly “take account of changes in technology, driving habits, regulations and highway infrastructure”. He added they had “already started to look at the impact of electric vehicles on driver and rider education and assessment and to plan for any changes that this shift in vehicle type and use will need.”

Sales of new conventional petrol and diesel cars are to be banned in 2030. Hybrids follow suit in 2035.

Driving school cars are typically newer models. It means most learners are likely to be taught in automatics, EVs or hybrids within a decade or so. It means the default for millions of learners looks set to be an automatic licence. That will leave new drivers unable to drive many of their typical ‘first’ cars. These are generally second-hand superminis with manual gearboxes. Classic cars with manual boxes will also be off limits to future generations if the law isn’t updated.

There have been calls for a change for some time, as has happened in many other countries. Modern automatic gearboxes have evolved significantly. No longer is fuel consumption, reliability, acceleration and price an issue. But while many heralded the end of the manual gearbox some time ago, the public have generally remained cautious until recently. When it comes to new car sales, 24% were autos in 2011, rising to 49% in 2019.

Back to the classroom

Robert Cowell from BSM said he expected the test will “evolve” to cover EV-specific topics as well. These could included  recharging and awareness of other road users not hearing cars approach requiring greater drivers care. He adds: “Instead of traditional eco-driving methods and selection of the appropriate gear for different speeds, we could be instructing pupils on regenerative braking and how to get the greatest range from their battery.”