Let Me Do It: In Defense of the Manual Transmission
I popped the bright red ’15 Ram 2500 Tradesman longbed diesel truck into neutral as the light turned red, turned up Lady Gaga on the radio, and gave the back seat a quick glance to check on my 6-month-old. This was a monumental moment. Yes, I happen to like the beat of Lady Gaga’s “Poker Face,” and yes, my 6-month-old was making her normal adorable noises, but the moment was monumental for another reason: I was behind the wheel of the only manual-transmission ¾-ton truck on the market. Despite its intimidating nature, the gentle giant was quite easy to drive and definitely made me feel like king—or shall I say queen—of the road. Add an exhaust system, some stacks, and retractable steps, and I’d be set. I’m sure we could rival the demeanor of a distinctive local manual Cummins “dump truck” that’s routinely audible from the kitchen table.
As the light turned green and I worked my way through the gears, I envisioned my daughter experiencing the joys of a manual transmission. I can’t wait to teach her. I mean, I could choose which gear I wanted and when I wanted it, through a coordinated working-together of both feet and my right hand. Doesn’t this concept seem so old-school in a time when vehicles are becoming smarter and doing more of the driving for us? I know what I’m going to do. I’m going to save our diesel ’85 Ford Ranger for my girl because it’s slow, manual, and smoky. It’s not the right machine for a Friday night joyride, if you know what I mean, and I’m pretty sure it’s indestructible.
Shoot, who am I kidding? By the time she grows up, dangerous, do-it-yourself manual transmissions will be long gone, outlawed, and legislated off the roads. I envision the autonomous vehicle movement will make even steering and braking obsolete, let alone controlling a transmission. By then, vehicles will be six figures deep, with mandated collision detection, prevention, and mitigation systems and bells and buzzers and warnings and lasers and radars that will enable ferrets to get behind the wheel. People will have no concept of cause and effect, and there will be no consequences because humans will have such small involvement in the driving process. Nothing will ever get hit by a car, not because drivers and pedestrians will be more alert, but because the cars won’t physically allow it. I mean, I’m all for safety, but where do we draw the line? When are we excusing accountability for an activity (driving) that has forever required responsibility? I’m not even old, but I know not to run out in front of cars, and I know to pull in the clutch when coming to a stop in gear. Every time. I even know how to turn a steering wheel and control gas and brake pedals (in addition to that pesky clutch pedal). I fear for future generations.
Think I'm overreacting? Recently, 10 major automakers came together to discuss standardizing automatic emergency braking on their vehicles. To quote from a Los Angeles Times article by Jerry Hirsch titled “Automakers Vow to Put the Brakes on Rear-End Collisions”:
NHTSA research found that a large number of drivers involved in rear-end crashes either did not apply the brakes at all or did not apply the brakes fully, failures that can be corrected by robotic braking.
My own behind-the-wheel research indicates that drivers involved in rear-end crashes also apply brakes fully (in addition to not at all or not enough)—just way too late, which is an unfortunate consequence of tailgating or playing on a cell phone instead of paying attention to the wall of stopped cars. I don’t know about you, but I didn't have any rear-end collisions today, because I saw the stopped cars before the car in front of me even started braking. And if I hadn't seen it, I had left enough following room to allow the car in front of me to panic stop.
It seems only fitting to bring my own solution to the table, and it seems obvious to me: all vehicles need to be manual. It’s harder to send texts and tweets with a manual transmission. We would all be safer, more diligent, patient drivers, forced to be more in tune with controlling our machines. Maybe we’d all become a little more coordinated and satisfied, while having a little more fun, too.
What do you think of my solution?