Kurt Bayer is a Herald reporter based in Christchurch

New Zealand's oldest driver Bill Mitchell renews his licence at 104

New Zealand's oldest driver, 104-year-old Bill Mitchell, has had his drivers licence renewed for another two years.

The Herald last year revealed that the World War II veteran was the oldest driver on our roads.

After his 104th birthday last month, the New Zealand Transport Agency (NZTA) approved his licence renewal for another two years.

Son Nick said that although his walking has slowed him down over the past year, his driving is "as good as ever".

"Being able to drive means everything to me. It's my number one priority," Mitchell told the Herald last year.

He drives his green Suzuki Swift every day — buying groceries, picking up prescriptions, visiting family, or the RSA.

Born in Otautau, Southland on April 10, 1913, new-fangled automobiles were still in their infancy.

As an 11- or 12-year-old, his mother taught him to drive by letting him behind the wheel of their US-made Essex for the 50km gravel-road drive from their Waimate home to Timaru.

"All I knew was to give way to the right, and if in doubt, jump on the brakes," he recalled.

Mitchell started a sheet metal apprenticeship in Christchurch in 1928 — the year Alexander Fleming discovered penicillin.

The 15-year-old got his driver's licence and immediately began saving his half-crown weekly wages.

His first motorised mode of transport was a BSA motorcycle, which he explored the South Island on.

Shortly after the outbreak of World War II, he bought a stylish 1936 Chevrolet coupe, which he again travelled across New Zealand in during breaks in his training as a Royal New Zealand Air Force engineer.

In 1947, he hit the road again, this time for his honeymoon with new bride Kathleen.

They spent 62 years together, and had three children, before she died "in my arms" in 2009.

The Mitchells enjoyed a shared love of cars, and owned many throughout their life together: a Vanguard, Morris Eight (Series E), Hillman station wagon, Chevrolet Chevette, Ford Capri, Rover TC 2000, Austin Allegro, Austin Mini 850.

Older drivers must renew their licences and undergo a medical check at 75, 80, and every two years after that.

- NZ Herald

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