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It’s no secret that manual transmissions are being phased out of new cars in the U.S. and the automatic reigns supreme. That’s not too surprising considering most dual-clutch transmissions and even CVTs are getting really good nowadays. Aside from those newer technologies, why do most Americans prefer driving with an automatic transmission?

Americans like to multitask when driving

A driver distracted by her phone
A driver distracted by her phone | Getty Images

Roughly 96% of Americans drive cars equipped with automatic transmissions, according to Carfax. So it’s clear that people just aren’t buying cars with manual transmissions. In fact, Edmunds reported that only 2% of the cars sold in 2018 were equipped with manual transmissions. But why is that?

While it’s easy to just throw a car into “D” and be on your merry way every day, ease-of-use is only part of the equation, notes Reader’s Digest. Americans are more likely to be doing more than just driving when they’re behind the wheel. Have you ever seen someone eating a burger, putting on make-up, or even using their cell phone while piloting their vehicle? Sure you have, it’s basically part of our culture.

Europeans still drive cars with manual transmissions

The automatic transmission in an Opel Zafira.
The automatic transmission in an Opel Zafira. | (Photo by Julian Stratenschulte/picture alliance via Getty Images)

On the other side of the pond, many European countries still widely use and sell cars with manual transmissions and it’s not because they’re into racing. Reader’s Digest also noted that driving stick is part of the European culture as many 15 and 16-year-old drivers learn how to drive with a manual transmission car. In America, that hasn’t been the case in the past few decades.

Additionally, European drivers are more engaged when driving their cars, and having to row their own gears keeps them alert to their surroundings. You most likely won’t find many Europeans on their phones or eating when behind the wheel either, it’s just not part of their driving culture. In fact, you would be hard-pressed to even find cupholders in some European-made cars as they don’t believe in drinking anything while driving. But over here in America, the cupholders in our cars are getting bigger and even come in different sizes, some with drink warmers or coolers.

Driving in America is seen as a chore

A 2018 Porsche 991 Carrera T sports car driving on the narrow mountain roads of Col de Turini in southeast France.
A 2018 Porsche 991 Carrera T sports car driving on the narrow mountain roads of Col de Turini in southeast France. | (Photo by Rich Pearce/Total 911 Magazine/Future via Getty Images)

Another reason why Americans prefer automatic transmissions is that driving in this country is viewed as a chore as opposed to something pleasurable. Many Americans rely on their cars to get them to and from work every day, and considering how far and wide some cities are, we can see why. Automatic cars are easier to use and nowadays, they come with driver-assist features like adaptive cruise control to make commuting even less of a pain, reports

New cars with manual transmissions are equipped with adaptive cruise control as well, however, the system isn’t as user-friendly as it is in their automatic counterparts. Most of the time, manual transmission cars with adaptive cruise control don’t have the ability to operate the car at lower speeds to combat stop-and-traffic. For drivers that commute a lot, the automatic is a much better choice.

Ultimately, the futuristic technology that comes in most new cars with automatic transmissions is part of why Americans still gravitate toward them. The other part happens to be our distracted driving culture, which may only get worse as autonomous driving features are more developed in the future. But we’ll save that for another story.


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