Monday, August 2, 2010

Pondering the Third Pedal

As I've previously mentioned in this blog, I like to read Car and Driver magazine.  I'm not exactly a member of their target audience.  I'm not a gear-head, I've never liked the feeling of gear grease under my nails, and I don't have a penis.  But I love the magazine because their camparos are clever, the writing is sharp, and they are often snarky & irreverent.

I sent my family to church yesterday morning without me and I settled down in the La-Z-Boy to read the current issue.  I generally prefer to read a magazine cover to cover, meaning that I don't skip immediately the the most interesting articles.  So I read the Editor's Letter first.  I didn't get any further because I spent quite a bit of time reflecting on the content of the letter.

I have to say that Eddie Alterman (the current Editor-in-Chief) is no Csaba Csere.  His prose is somewhat clumsy and I feel that it's similar to what Dennis Miller's half-wit brother would produce.  Uh, not that I know anything about the intelligence of Dennis Miller's brother - or even if he has one at all!  This letter was thought-provoking though. 

He noted that very few new cars were being offered with manual transmissions.  That's odd, but certainly not worthy of much more than a passing curiosity.  But he tied the lack of manuals to the amount of driving teens on the road.  That's where it gets really interesting.

According to the Washington Post, only about 30% of 16-year olds got their driver's licenses in 2008.  Though I wasn't able to get my license until I was nearly 18-years old, that number seems really low to me.  Why aren't kids driving?

Alterman thinks it's because teenagers have plenty of other fun things to do besides go cruising with friends on a Friday night.  They can watch their parent's big-screen HDTVs, they can surf the web, they can immerse themselves in roll-playing games.  I'll add that teenagers today have had the dangers of the world drilled into their heads from a very early age.  For all I know, they are afraid to go driving around in search of fun because the wide open world is a scary place to them.  Heck, their parents probably prohibit them from exploring the world from behind the wheel.

Alterman suggests that teens might be more interested in driving if they were to drive a stick.  I agree that a manual transmission is far more fun to drive than an automatic.  That third pedal equals excitement.  From a safety standpoint, the need to manually shift gears also would significantly cut down on people dicking around with their cell phones (texting or chatting) while on the road.

My first car was a 1981 5-speed Toyota Celica.  It was old, but it was fun!  It was far from being a hot rod, but I can still remember the joy of ripping through the gears.  I find it hard to believe that some people have no idea how to drive a stick.  Driving that car basically ensured that I will be able to drive any automobile I'll ever own or rent.  I sold it after three years for $100 less than I paid.  So I only paid $100 to own and drive that car for over 1,000 days - what a bargain!

Why the lack of manual transmissions in the current offering of new cars?  Well, because we grow lazy as we mature and grown ups are more likely to purchase new vehicles.  We'd much rather have an automatic when suffering through an hour-long commute.  So who should be buying manuals?  Teenagers who don't have to drive in stop-&-go traffic!  Generally, kids drive local (school, work, home) so shifting isn't a big deal.

If you've never driven a manual transmission, I highly recommend that you try it sometime.  So much the better if it's a convertible.  You'll stall out a few times at first.  That's okay, it happens to everyone when they're learning.

Once you're comfortable shifting, find an empty road, drop the top, and run through the gears.  I guarantee that you'll be hooked by the exhilarating joy of completely possessing a car.  Note that I am not suggesting that you break any laws while dominating your vehicle.

Happy travels!


  1. I agree -- I was a safer driver because I drove a manual and it forced me to pay attention. My dad used to call my driving an E ticket ride at Disneyland when I was learning!! But he taught us because he wanted to make certain that his daughters could drive anything in case of an emergency....

  2. Good move on your father's part!