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Driver, 105: 'I'm not old'

2013-06-06 08:48

NO OLDIE HERE: Bob Edwards, 105, is New Zealand’s oldest driver. He has been driving since he was 17 and doesn’t think he’s ‘that old’. Image: Youtube

Nick Perry

NGATAKI, New Zealand - Bob Edwards was born before the first Model T rolled out of Henry Ford's factory in Detroit. He learned to drive in a French car that had a lever instead of a steering wheel and he's still on the road in a red all-wheel-drive Mitsubishi.

The oldest licensed driver in New Zealand, and one of the oldest in the world, has been driving for 88 of his 105 years and has no plans to give it up, just as he intends to keep on working out every morning in his home gym and to cooking meals for himself and his wife, Lesley.

She's only 91.

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"In fact, I don't think I'm old," Edwards says, "...not really."


He's been involved in only one crash and picked up only one speeding ticket, a citation that still riles him years later. When he broke his left hip his doctors told him to stop driving for six weeks. He paid no attention, after all an auto gearbox doesn't need a left foot.

Drivers older than 80 in New Zealand must have their health and vision tested every two years to stay on the road. Many countries in Europe and US states have similar requirements. Strange, because while stories about elderly drivers making mistakes or causing crashes make headlines, it's young drivers who cause most damage.

A spokesman for the New Zealand Transport Agency which oversees driver testing said: "Older drivers, on a per-kilometre basis, are involved in far fewer crashes than younger ones.

"Our job is to balance that with the need to make sure our roads are safe."

He said elderly people who kept their licence maintained their independence, mobility and dignity.

According to Guinness Book of World Records, the  oldest driver was American Fred Hale who was on the road until his 108th birthday in 1998.


Edwards drives three times a week to the store 15km down the road. He picks up groceries on Sundays and the newspapers on other days. Occasionally, he says, he'll drive farther afield to a medical appointment or to visit friends.

He grew up in England and he learned to drive in his uncle's car, a De Dion Bouton. "It was something new. Cars were just coming in," Edwards says. "I mean, it was just marvellous."

He got his first licence in 1925 at age 17. Two years later he saw a Salvation Army ad seeking young men to work on the farms of England's colonies. "They told me Canada was very cold, Australia was very hot, but New Zealand, they said was just right," Edwards says. "So I picked New Zealand."


He eventually bought a Dodge car, converted it into a truck, and started transporting the fossilised gum of native kauri trees from Snells Beach in the north to the city of Auckland. Soon he was working 16-hour days and transporting butter, groceries and fuel; he bought new trucks and employed a couple of drivers.

Fuel rationing during the Second World War effectively ended his business. For much of the rest of his working life, he captained tourist and car ferries, fibbing about his age so he could work beyond what was then the mandatory retirement age of 60.

His wife stopped driving in the early 1980's. Her husband always took the wheel anyway and he will stay with it as long as he can.

"As far as I'm concerned, driving is a part of me," he says. "I mean, that was me. I was a driver. And I could drive anything. Anything at all."

Do you think ol' Bob should hang up his keys and get off the road, or not? Email us and we'll publish your thoughts or use the Readers' Comments section below...
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