To be honest, I’m not really the sort of person who ends up at the forefront of revolutions, but somehow it’s happened. In 1999, despite everyone telling me I was stupid, misguided or even cheating, I sat my driving test in an automatic. It was a time when virtually no one did that, but 25 years on, everyone’s at it now. So yes: a sort of revolution, and long overdue as well.

The figures are striking. In 2007-8, around 1.7m people took their test in the UK and under one per cent took it in an automatic. A couple of decades later, the number taking the automatic test has increased from 70,429 to 324,064. The number taking manual tests has also declined over the same period from 1.69m to 1.36m.

The other interesting thing is it looks like the city where I passed my test (and was almost defeated by the big roundabout in Pollok) is ahead of even those trends. I’ve been speaking to driving schools in Glasgow this week, and they tell me the enquiries they’re getting are now close to 50/50 automatic/manual. One school I spoke to now has more automatic instructors than manual; another told me there’s a big shift happening and within four to five years, it’ll mostly be automatics.

The Herald: Should more learners skip manual cars?Should more learners skip manual cars? (Image: free)

Part of me feels vindicated, I must say. My instructor in the 90s, the mighty Nelson, was one of the very few specialising in automatic lessons at the time and I remember us discussing why more people didn’t chose automatic. I’d taken a few manual lessons to start with, but it was obviously going to take me hours and hours, and a lot of money, to master. Automatic on the other hand was straightforward, so why not do that?

Even at the time, the arguments people put to me for doing manual were pretty spurious: “it gives you greater control of the car”, “automatic cars are very expensive”, “you’ll have less choice” and even: “you’re taking the easy option”. But what they really meant was “I had to do it the hard way so why shouldn’t you?” Fortunately, I didn’t listen, passed my test, bought a great little automatic car, and never looked back (which is probably why I had that prang on Pollokshaws Road but let’s not talk about that.)

One of the Glasgow instructors I spoke to this week, John Robertson of Topgear Driving Tuition, told me exactly how much things have changed. It used to be, he said, that the majority of learners who took the automatic test were older or had disabilities; he basically never got young people taking the automatic option and that was because their parents were saying ‘get a proper licence’.

Now it’s different. After first teaching in manuals for eight years, John has now been teaching automatic for 12 and half his diary, he says, is now 17 and 18-year-olds learning in automatics whereas five years ago he barely had any. It’s basically the way things are going, he says.

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John also totally understands why people are doing it. Obviously, one of the tipping factors has been the growth in electric and hybrid cars, but people are also starting to realise it’s just easier, and more pleasant, to do automatic. The average learner will take 15 hours before they feel like they have reasonable control of a manual car approaching junctions, but with an automatic it can happen in five. Even examiners are saying to John they don’t understand why anyone is still learning in a manual.

One of the reasons, obviously, is that there’s a perception that taking the test in an automatic is somehow cheating – an instructor told me it used to be known as the ‘lucky bag licence’. There’s also male bravado at play: is learning in an automatic manly? To which my response would be that men who insist you have to keep grabbing a gearstick in order to drive need to make an appointment with a Freudian analyst who will tell them what’s really going on.

It’s also clear that in an often stressful, tiresome (and expensive) society, it makes no sense to make things more difficult for yourself. Learning to drive has always been costly and still is but take the automatic route and you’ll save some cash.

The Herald: Learning to drive can be a trialLearning to drive can be a trial (Image: free)

Yes, you pay a bit more for automatic lessons, and the cars are a bit more expensive to run, but it will take someone about 40 hours on average to pass in a manual but only 30 for an automatic, so quite a bit of money saved. Result.

Of course, we’re still a long way from going fully automatic: the majority of people, for now, are still learning in manual cars, but as one of the instructors said to me, “give it another four or five years and it’ll be totally different”. Camilla Benitz, who’s head of the AA Driving School, also says that in the near future most people will only need to drive automatic because all electric vehicles are automatic so it’s all part of a natural transition.

Maybe then, hopefully, the old guard who’ve been insisting for years that manual is the only way to learn will shut up. As one of the instructors pointed out to me, the UK is one of the only countries in the world that tries to make our lives harder by making us drive manual cars, and it’s part of a pattern isn’t it? “The old ways are the best. Life may be hard but it’s the way we’ve always done it. Do not change.”

But I say: resist! Join the revolution. Stop driving your manual cars immediately (or when the road is clear and it is safe to do so). D for drive, and on we go.