AA Driving School predicts that by 2026, more than 25% of practical driving test passes will be in automatic vehicles.

While the trend has been ongoing for a decade, the switch to electric vehicles has not only accelerated the transition but also made it an inevitable part of the future of driving tests.

At present, a substantial proportion of all driving tests, nearly 20%, are being taken in automatic transmission vehicles.

Slipping the clutch

In the latest data released by DVSA, 17% of all passes are in an automatic.

This compares to 13.4% the previous year and just five per cent a decade earlier.

It represents an increase of around three percentage points per year.

In 2022/23, 324,064 automatic tests (1,688,955 overall) were conducted, with 138,354 producing a pass (816,775 overall).

Based on that trajectory (of an increase of 3% per year), AA Driving School predicts that in 2023/24, 20% of all passes will be automatic, in 2024/25, 23%, and in 2025/26, it will be 26%.

This is set to rise even further with the ban of sales of new petrol and diesel vehicles on the horizon.

Return to neutral

The rise year-on-year reflects the number of instructors now teaching in automatic vehicles.

In January this year, 21% of AA Driving School franchisees were teaching in an automatic compared with 79% in manual.

This broadly represents the percentage split between manual and automatic practical tests being conducted.

Data also shows more females than males are taking automatic tests, though the gap has lessened 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%.

Select first

AA Driving School data also shows older learners are more likely to have lessons in an automatic than younger learners.

Of the school’s current automatic pupils, 43% are over 30 (10% of overall pupils), compared to just 17% who are 17-20 years old (4% of overall pupils).

There are many reasons pupils opt for learning in an automatic including the perception it is simpler as there are no gears or clutch to master.

This isn’t replicated in pass rates as the automatic is around 6% lower than manual.

The difference in pass rates may be because automatic pupils develop the basic skills sooner and take their test before they are totally ready.

Into top

It’s likely the automatic numbers will increase further and faster after the 2035 ban on new petrol and diesel sales.

As EVs are automatic, the need to learn in a manual vehicle will decrease, and we should see automatic rates comfortably overtake manual.

The number of people training to be an instructor in an automatic has also risen.

In 2023, 37% of those learning to be a driving instructor with the AA chose an automatic vehicle.

AA Driving School recently celebrated the second anniversary of adding electric vehicles to its fleet*.

Automatic driving tests were introduced 55 years ago, in 1969.

Starting on June 2, 1969, a separate driving licence group for automatic vehicles was introduced.


Camilla Benitz, Managing Director of 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 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.”