Are automatic driving tests easier to pass? Here’s what the data says

More than a quarter of learners will take their driving test in an automatic car by 2026, as an increasing number of budding motorists won’t care to learn how to change gear in preparation for the electric vehicle revolution. So far this year, 22 per cent of all tests carried have been in automatic cars – up from just 6.1 per cent a decade ago, according to the latest data from the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency. And by 2026, this is predicted to rise to 28 per cent, according to a new study. But is it a wise decision to ditch learning to change gear? While it might appear easier to pass in an automatic, the figures tell a very different story.

Almost one in three learners will sit their driving tests in automatic cars by 2026 as the shift away from manual gearboxes is accelerated by the transition to auto-only EVs, a report says. Driving schools and instructors are already reacting to this increase in demand for automatic tests. According to AA Driving School, 21 per cent of its instructors today are teaching in vehicles with automatic gearboxes. This broadly represents the percentage split between manual and automatic practical tests, as businesses look to adapt their services to cater for the needs of new drivers readying for life on the roads without manual gear shifts. In 2023, 37 per cent of the AA’s trainee driving instructors are choosing automatic vehicles to teach learners – many of them electric cars. And as we tick off each year closer to the impending 2035 ban on sales of new internal combustion engine models, this transition from manual to automatic tests will gather pace as more budding motorists prepare for driving EVs.

The latest data released by the DVSA shows that 22% of all tests carried out so far this year were in automatic cars – up from just 6.1% a decade ago. Driving schools, such as the AA’s, have responded to the increased demand for automatic-only licenses, with 21% already teaching exclusively in cars with auto gearboxes – many of them EVs. Camilla Benitz, managing director at AA Driving School, said: ‘As EVs and hybrids become more popular due to lower day-to-day running costs and as the impending ban on sales of new petrol and diesel cars 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 to not only learn in an automatic but to learn in an electric vehicle.’ We see this trend continuing and the need for manual tuition declining, though manual licenses will remain important for some drivers as they will want the option to drive a larger variety of vehicles.

**Automatic driving test FAQs**

While there’s no denying the fact that more people want to learn to drive in automatic cars, is this due to the perception that it’s easier to pass than in a car with a manual transmission? What are the major differences between learning to drive in an auto and a manual? Is there a different theory test for each? And should you be embarrassed about not being able to change gear in a car? We dig into the data and ask experts for the answers to these and a number of other frequently asked questions about learning to drive only automatic cars.

Is it easier to pass a driving test in an automatic car? Here’s what the data says… and the results might surprise you! An automatic driving test is identical to sitting one in a manual car. The test route, examiner, and maneuvers you’re required to perform are no different, and you will pass and fail on the same criteria. In both an automatic-only and manual driving test, you can receive up to 15 minors and still pass. However, if you receive three of the same minor faults or one major fault, then your test will result in a fail. Other than changing gears in the car manually, the only difference between testing in an automatic car is the qualification you receive once you have passed, which we’ll come to shortly.

Are automatic driving test pass rates higher or lower than manuals? While there’s a general perception that it’s easier to pass a driving test in an automatic car, the failure rate is higher than manuals. The average driving test pass rate in 2022/23 was 48.4 per cent. For automatics, it was 42.7 per cent. In terms of numbers, 324,064 learners sat automatic-only tests during the 12-month period, and just 138,354 passed.

Is there more demand for automatic-only driving tests than previous years? There has been a dramatic increase in the number of learners taking their practical driving test in automatic cars. Latest data for 2022/23 shows that almost one in five tests are carried out in autos. Of the 1,688,955 practical driving exams sat that year, 324,064 were automatic-only tests. This represents 19.2 per cent of all tests. Just five years ago (2017/18 financial year), only 9.5 per cent of all tests were in automatic cars. And a decade earlier (2012/13), of the 1,436,481 driving tests conducted, just 87,844 were automatic-only. This represents just 6.1 per cent of practical exams. AA Driving School predicts that in 2023/24, 22 per cent of all passes will be in an automatic, rising to 25 per cent the following year and 28 per cent by 2025/26.

Is it the youngest learners driving the rise in automatic-only tests? No. Quite the contrary, in fact. According to AA Driving School, 43 per cent of learners over the age of 30 have requested to take auto-only lessons and tests. This compares to just 17 per cent in the 17 to 20-year-old age bracket.

When were automatic driving tests introduced? Automatic driving tests were first made available 55 years ago, in 1969. From 2 June 1969, a separate driving license group for automatic vehicles was introduced.

How many new cars on sale today have an automatic gearbox? The number of new mainstream models that are manuals has more than halved in just six years, recent research by CarGurus revealed. Car makers that no longer offer any new showroom models with manual gearboxes include Volvo, Mercedes-Benz, Jaguar, and Lexus. Out of 300 models currently available to UK buyers, only 89 are manuals – 18 per cent fewer than last year. As a result, more than three in five new cars bought by motorists in Britain today have an automatic transmission.

Will the EV transition spark an increase in automatic-only driving tests? With every electric vehicle on sale in Britain today having an automatic gearbox – and this unlikely to change unless brands like Toyota continue to develop simulated manual transmissions – the manual driving test’s days are numbered. And the Government is playing a part in this by forcing car makers to sell an increasing share of EVs each year between now and 2035. The Zero Emission Vehicle (ZEV) Mandate introduced to law in January means that 22 per cent of all new cars sold by mainstream manufacturers need to be electric. This threshold increases annually. In 2025, the requirement is for 28 per cent of registrations by each brand to be electric, rising to 80 per cent by the end of the decade. Under the rules of the mandate, manufacturers that fail to comply with the targets face fines of £15,000 for every non-ZEV car and £18,000 per non-ZEV van. Any excess non-ZEV sales can be covered by purchasing allowances from other manufacturers, using allowances from past or future trading periods during the initial years of the policy, or offsetting with credits. The impact of this drive towards an electric car parc will ultimately have a say on the type of car people want to learn in, according to specialist car insurer Adrian Flux, which estimates that one million automatic tests will be conducted annually by around 2034 – and manual tests will be obsolete by 2040.

Should you expect to pay more to have driving lessons in an automatic car? The answer is yes! Is it cheaper to learn to drive in an automatic car? Despite the automatic and practical driving test being almost identical, learners will find that the cost to take lessons in an automatic will be higher than learning in a manual. We checked pricing for learning to drive with the AA in Cambridgeshire and to learn in a manual car the cost of two lessons was £74, six sessions was £222, and ten rank in at £370. In comparison, two automatic-only lessons with an instructor were £86 (£12 higher), six – with a discount – was priced at £246 (£24 higher), and ten cost £430 (£60 more). While there is no explanation for why auto-only tests cost more, it is believed this is linked to the higher costs involved with maintaining and repairing an automatic car. Others believe it’s because learners choosing automatic-only tests are likely to need fewer lessons as they do not need to learn to change gear, so prices are hiked.

Do more men or women take automatic-only driving tests? The DVSA’s data shows more females than males are taking automatic tests. However, the gender gap is getting closer since the pandemic. Prior to 2019/20, typically around three-quarters of automatic tests were taken by female pupils. This has reduced every year since, but currently stands at more than 60 per cent.

Can you drive a manual car if you pass your test in an automatic? If you pass the driving test in a manual car, your license allows you to drive both a manual or automatic. However, the same rules don’t apply if you pass your test in an auto car. Because someone successfully passing a test in an automatic has not learned to drive with a manual shift and clutch, it is illegal for them to get behind the wheel of a car where they’re in charge of the gears. If you’ve passed an automatic driving test and want to drive a manual, you will need to sit the test again in a car with a manual transmission.

Is the theory test the same for manual and automatic cars? Yes, the theory test is the same for both automatic and manual cars. This is because the theory test is based around driving knowledge and driving laws, which are the same regardless of the type of gearbox motorists learn to operate.

Will it cost more to insure an automatic car? Younger drivers on automatic-only licenses are currently paying the highest of all car insurance premiums. Last year, the typical automatic-only driver aged under 25 was quoted £2,803 a year for their car insurance, a rise of 49 per cent on £1,887 in 2023, according to the price comparison website Compare the Market.

Should you be embarrassed about only learning to drive a car with a manual gearbox? Maria McCarthy, who is the author of Driving Test Secrets You Need to Know, says there can be some prejudice against auto-only license holders, especially from those qualified to drive a manual. She told This is Money: ‘Some manual drivers might try to ‘auto-shame’ you if you want to learn to drive in an automatic car, implying that you won’t be a ‘real driver’ if you do. ‘They might emphasize that there might be ‘that one time’ when you need to drive a relative to the hospital or escape a zombie horde, and the only car available is a manual, and you’ll feel really bad about not having the necessary driving skills. ‘But only you can decide the likelihood of these scenarios and decide whether it’s worth forfeiting the relative ease of acquiring an automatic license for it.’