One in Four Future Driving Tests to be Automatic by 2026

New reports published by the AA Driving School suggest that nearly one in every four driving tests undertaken by 2026 will be done in an automatic vehicle, a move propelled by the switch to electric vehicles and likely pointing to the inevitable end of manual cars.

Rising Automatic Tests

Automatic tests have risen over the last few years. At the end of 2023, 1,688,955 automatic driving tests were done. Current predictions show an increase in pass rates in automatics each year, too, with 2023-2024 yielding a 20% pass rate and 2025-2026 reaching a 26% rate.

This rise reflects a growing number of people learning in an automatic vehicle. In January 2024, 21% of AA Driving School franchisees taught students in an automatic vehicle. The data also reveals that females take more automatic tests than males, although the number has dropped since the pandemic. Older learners were also more likely to learn in an automatic, with 43% of automatic learners being over 30.

Why Automatic?

There are a handful of reasons why learners choose automatic vehicles. Some perceive automatic vehicles as easier to learn, but this is not reflected in pass rates. Instead, experts feel automatic pupils develop basic skills faster and test prematurely.

Experts also agree that automatic vehicles will become more popular due to the 2035 ban on petrol and diesel sales for new vehicles. EV vehicles are also automatic, which reduces the need to learn manual. It’s also true that people who want to be driving instructors learn in a manual vehicle—roughly 40% of all instructors learn in an automatic vehicle in 2023.

The End of Manual?

Naturally, the world of driving is divided as to whether or not these changes will mark the end of manual vehicles within our lifetimes - but industry reactions are often nuanced. For example, Camilla Benitz is the MD for the AA Driving School, and she had the following thoughts to offer about the situation:

“As EVs and hybrids become more popular due to lower day-to-day running costs and as the impending ban on new petrol and diesel car sales gets closer, more people are choosing to learn in an automatic. As more people become confident with the idea of their driving future being electric, the idea of needing to drive a manual vehicle will feel irrelevant to many. Indeed, we see many are already choosing not only to learn in an automatic but also to learn in an electric vehicle.

We see this trend continuing and the need for manual tuition declining, though manual licences will remain important for some drivers as they will want the option to drive a larger variety of vehicles. Pre-pandemic, more females than males took automatic tests, but we are now seeing male numbers increase and expect that trend to continue at a faster pace than before due to more automatic vehicles being available and more people buying EVs and hybrids.”