Sticking to the basics
While the manual transmission (commonly called stick shift) is a rarity on vehicles currently being imported into the island, save for some pick-ups, two driving schools maintain that learning to change the gears is still relevant to the learning process.
Alphonso Grennell, managing director of Grennell's Driving School, pointed out that many heavy-duty vehicles are still manual. "There is still a good amount of vehicles with manual transmission, especially if you work in a technical field, for example in the telecoms sector," the defensive and security driving instructor, said. "There are still a lot of vehicles that are standard, example the vans and other four-wheel drive vehicles. Also, a good amount of the trailers that come into Jamaica are standard, so without knowledge of driving a standard vehicle, you would not be capable of manoeuvring and driving those vehicles properly."
Grennell also said that the majority of the lessons offered to students at his driving school are on standard motor vehicles.
He pointed out that parents with some military background are the ones encouraging their children to learn on standard vehicles due in part to the perception that once you learn on a manual transmission, you can drive an automatic transmission vehicle.
However, he explained that in recent times, a few persons have opted to learn on an automatic. "We are having people now deciding to do automatic. In the last five years, the people wanting to do automatic have increased to about 30 per cent," he said.
Noting that there is more concentration required when driving a standard vehicle, Grennell stated that there is the belief that driving an automatic makes the motorist more inattentive, which paves the way for crashes.
"A lot of people who drive an automatic vehicle tend to be more complacent. There is a school of thought that one of the reasons there are so many crashes is that it is easy to obtain a licence and that there is nothing to driving an automatic vehicle. You just drive and steer," he said.
Trishanna Williams from Keys Driving School also said that a driver is more focused when operating a standard transmission motor car. She, too, believes that driving a stick shift is still relevant, pointing to the number of persons who want to learn on manual transmission vehicles.
She, however, pointed out that because it is easier to learn on an automatic, there are those persons who prefer to learn to drive an automatic. She noted that a few persons, after getting their licence with an automatic vehicle, return to the school to learn to drive standard shift.