Wales

Driving is a 'life support' for 92-year-old

John Wright in car
Image caption "I'm still driving without any convictions"

Almost 80 years after getting his first taste of driving in an Austin 7, John Wright from Pembrokeshire is still going strong behind the wheel.

At 92, he boasts no driving convictions, a 35-year no claims discount on his insurance and dreams of driving a Formula 1 racing car.

Mr Wright, who lives with his wife Maureen in Hazelbeach, near Neyland, is one of almost 5,900 drivers in Wales aged 90 or over.

He confidently drives his car three or four times a week to play at his local tennis clubs and has no qualms about travelling in traffic or at night.

Figures obtained by the BBC through a Freedom of Information request to the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) show the number of motorists over 90 across the UK has surpassed 100,000.

The number of drivers who are 80 or over in Wales is 72,000, with Swansea, Cardiff and Carmarthenshire having the highest proportion - each with more than 5,000 who are 80 or over and more than 400 in each area are 90 or over.

Mr Wright's first experience of driving was in his friend's Austin 7, who let him drive home after a night out in Southampton during World War Two.

"It was before the age I should have been driving, but I managed alright," he said.

"I fumbled a bit with the gears and clutch, but we got home safely, mainly because there was nothing on the roads, just a few tanks."

Mr Wright said his first car was a Wolseley, followed by many more, but his favourite was an Essex-Terraplane.

"It was a fantastic car," he said, "it had tremendous acceleration, an aluminium body and two huge doors which opened forward.

"I remember I was taking a friend's father home from the pub and we went around a right hand corner and he hadn't closed the door properly. He decided to open it while we were turning and of course he flew out!"

At 15, Mr Wright was taken on by the Merchant Navy as a deck boy and did trips with troops heading to north Africa.

On one trip he recalled a collision with the battleship HMS Revenge and spent about two months in Singapore waiting for their ship to be repaired.

Mr Wright said he had lots of different jobs during his working life, joking "no one would have him for long".

They included business advisory, printing and keeping pubs with his wife Maureen.

Image caption Mrs Wright said her husband was a "very confident driver" and she had "no hesitation about being his passenger"

Mr Wright said he used to take great pleasure from driving, but not so much these days.

For more than 20 years, he was the proud owner of a Scimitar - a sports car produced by British car manufacturer Reliant.

He said Prince Philip and Princess Anne had one and "she was always getting into trouble for speeding".

"When she had a police escort she used to outrun them and they used to get very peeved about that," he added.

But Mr Wright said he had to give up the car as he could not longer maintain it.

"It was an old car and it needed a lot of work and it was so expensive to find a good mechanic who knew what they were doing with a car like that," he said.

Mr and Mrs Wright said they would both be lost without driving.

"It's a life support in a sense," said Mr Wright, "there wouldn't be much left if I wasn't able to drive."

Asked what he thought made a good driver, he said is was all about being smooth: "Once you learn how to drive smoothly, you're much safer.

"When I was young, if I hadn't had an accident within 12 months I was looking for where it was coming from, but as I grew a bit older, I learned how to drive smoothly."

He added that a good driver understands the mechanics of the car, how it works and what it responds to.

"When Nigel Mansell was learning how to drive, his father said to him 'you've got to learn how to drive smoothly before you can ever drive fast', and that is absolutely true."

Mr Wright said he was patient and sympathetic to people who make mistakes on the road.

"If you can think of a mistake that's been made on the road, I've already made it, so I don't look at someone else and say you're a bit of a fool, because I've been that fool.

"I don't even know where my horn is to honk at people!"

Image copyright Bryn Lennon/Getty Images
Image caption Mr Wright agrees with Nigel Mansell's dad to "drive smoothly before you can drive fast"

When he turned 90, Mr Wright drove an Aston Martin around Silverstone, clocking up speeds of 124mph, but was disappointed he could not go faster.

"Silverstone apparently has two tracks," he explained, "they have the Formula 1 track which is one of the straightest and fastest in the world, where you can do 200mph plus, and I was really looking forward to that.

"But I was put on the inner track which they allow people like me to drive around and it's really not possible to do more than 120-odd because of the bends."

Mr Wright said there was "a chap sitting next to me" and when he approached a corner far too quickly he was "bouncing in his seat yelling 'brake, brake!'

"I didn't hear a thing as I was wearing a helmet with ear pads and I'm not too good at hearing anyway," he added.

Mr Wright said he had no fear of speed and would love to drive a McLaren Formula 1 race car, which can do 240mph.

He thinks it would be a great way to mark his 100th birthday.

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