Me? Shift gears? I think not.

The trucking industry seems to have another divisive issue on its hands. Ontario’s decision at the 11th hour to delay a rule that would prohibit those obtaining their A/Z licence using an automated transmission from operating a manual-equipped truck has prompted reaction from outrage to indifference.

On one end of the spectrum, the Private Motor Truck Council of Canada and the Truck Training Schools Association of Ontario are crying foul, saying the Ministry of Transportation is threatening road safety with the decision and that lives will be put at risk.

Meanwhile, the Ontario Trucking Association greeted the delay with a shrug and said there are more important issues for the province to focus on. A little-known group called the Ontario Commercial Truck Training Association applauded the delay, noting its 30 or so training school members need more time to procure the required equipment to conduct training on manual transmission-equipped trucks.

The issue has even garnered some mainstream media attention, with the Toronto Star reporting on the conflict. Is it unsafe for someone who has completed all their training using an automated transmission to get behind the wheel of a truck equipped with a manual? Absolutely.

(Image: iStock)

But does the issue need policing? Maybe I’m naïve, but I like to think no fleet would put an unprepared driver in the seat of a truck they’re incapable of operating safely. And I’d like to think no driver would take on that responsibility while lacking the prerequisite training and experience.

Driving a manual is hard. I learned how to drive a truck using an 18-speed. I passed my road test on such a truck. And I’ve barely shifted a gear since.

With the advent of current generation automated manuals, I can think of few practical reasons to spec’ a truck with a manual. Automated transmissions have become standard equipment with some OEMs and all but standard with others.

Sure, the early generation automatics had their issues. But they’ve come a long way and even provide the foundation for some of the advanced driver assistance systems found in new trucks today. I can think of nothing more distracting or stressful than watching the rpm needle while finding a gear or trying to time a downshift on a steep grade. I know this becomes second nature with experience, but for the uninitiated it’s a huge learning curve.

Would I get dental surgery from someone who didn’t go to dental school? Of course not. Would I drive a manual transmission-equipped truck today? Absolutely not. They’d hear me grinding gears all the way to Queen’s Park.

It’s not like riding a bicycle, it’s a skill that for novice drivers will be lost with lack of use. If I were to drive a manual today, I wouldn’t be much smoother than I was in those early days of my training at WT Safety in Calgary.

I like the idea of a restricted licence for those who haven’t been trained on shifting gears. But I also think the industry should be able to police itself on this one. Are drivers today really driving manual transmission-equipped trucks with no experience on them? Carriers would be crazy to put someone without experience on a manual behind the wheel of a truck equipped with one.

And drivers need to have the confidence to refuse any pressure to do so. It’s a driver’s market and if you are experienced only on auto-shifts, then you can easily find a fleet that offers nothing but. If a fleet manager pressures you to drive a manual when you don’t have experience or comfort level operating one, tell them where to stick their shifter.

James Menzies

James Menzies is editor of Today's Trucking. He has been covering the Canadian trucking industry for more than 18 years and holds a CDL. Reach him at james@newcom.ca or follow him on Twitter at @JamesMenzies.

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  • I have switched back to a automatic and manual because of my trench foot from lack of proper medical treatment both in homeless shelters and on the road. Every truck driver should spend at least 20 hours of training in a manual transmission truck of more than 30,000 lbs or 14,000 kg in Ont. A manual transmission is just like learning to dance. A new driver with a auto transmission and auto braking isn’t bad weather. I seen a auto truck brake so hard the trailer went one meter into the next lane pushing a box truck through the quart rail and injuries to the box truck driver. The O T A is only concerned about money not safety or the well-being of people on the road.

  • The trucking industry has been putting unskilled newly trained drivers in the seat for years. How did any of us get our start? But now all of a sudden its taboo!
    The goverment implements an MELT system that is already being screwed with by the schools as no one is watching on the goverment side. Drivers should be trained on both and be able to drive both. The big question if you could only drive Automatic should you be paid less??

  • Sir I only have three words to say Humboldt Broncos , Saskatchewan. The Hockey team that was in a serious accident due to inexperience and pressured driver who was not even qualify to operate an 18 wheeler. This profession needs check and balance in place so this doesn’t happen again. I’m all for one having in place an A restricted license if you can’t drive a manual, and makes carriers and other company to comply with the industry standards. There are still a lot of drivers out there who prefer driving a manual because you have more control over the truck.