“I was born above my Italian Grandfather’s deli and bakery in London. Sounds posh and trendy now – but it wasn’t then.” He’s driven thousands of cars in countless countries, presenting and hosting many hundreds of national and international radio and TV programmes, including regular BBC contributions. He is also one of the founding fathers of Auto Express (Britain’s biggest selling weekly car mag), which he helped establish and launch in 1988. He has interviewed the last five British Prime Ministers about motoring matters, is a regular judge for the international World Car of the Year award, and he’s even driven a Formula One car: “The on-track drive of my life was in a Tyrrell Formula 1 car, while the drive of my life on public roads, tracks and frozen Arctic rivers was in a Jeep Commander to Tuktoyuktuk, one of the last Inuit villages at the top of the world.” After over three decades in the fast lane of motoring journalism, his enthusiasm for the car and getting behind the wheel remains undiminished.

The instructor told me I’d pass first time, and I did… a few miles down the road on the South London/Kent borders, my Dad had a pal who lived in a Metropolitan Water Board house pumping station that sat on acres of land. That’s where, as a child, I was taught the basics of driving. I topped-up with a few formal lessons which, from memory, cost £1.75 apiece. Rightly or wrongly, things were far easier and more relaxed back then.

Chalk and cheese… it’s difficult to compare learning to drive and taking the test then and now. Seriously, I wonder if I’d actually pass the test if I took it today!

Personal motorised transport meant freedom and adventure… in the 1960s and ‘70s my family used to travel by road to Italy. That’s when and where my love of motorised transport started. I had no choice in the matter. I was hooked. Since then I’ve driven thousands of test cars in 70-odd countries, and worked as a full-time motoring writer and broadcaster since the 1980s. I’m one of the founding
fathers of Auto Express and have served time as the Motoring Editor on three national newspapers. Anyone remember newspapers?

Older relatives sometimes give wise advice… in my early teens my favourite uncle – Tony Cozzi – told me that I asked so many questions I should consider a career as a cop, or a journalist. The Met Police wouldn’t have me, so I became a professional interviewer/scribbler/commentator. Road safety should be part of the education system for all young people… I’ve long said that driving, road accident awareness/perception/avoidance etc should be taught in schools. What’s more, I know (because they’ve told me) that some vehicle, fuel, component and tyre manufacturers would be fully supportive.
For what it’s worth, I believe teaching someone to drive, ride a bike and be a safer pedestrian should be a slow, ongoing process. There’s got to be a better way than the current ‘system’ of blitzing people, young or old, with lessons and tests in a few short months, then teaching them absolutely nothing in the years or decades that follow when they could, and should, still be learning.

Young drivers are rather unfairly singled out… thanks to the countless radio and TV interviews I’ve done over the years, I know that many broadcasters assume young drivers are bad; middle-aged drivers are good; and older drivers are doddery/unsafe. But it’s not as simple as that, is it? Surely, it’s not the age of a driver that matters – it’s about attitude and how he or she performs behind the wheel…isn’t it?

Driving standards need to improve… definitely, via everything from schools, colleges and universities, to annual or regular driving appraisals, which I’m a big fan of.

ADIs should get more credit and recognition… do most members of the public, politicians etc even know what an ADI is? I doubt it. The DI bit doesn’t help. Doesn’t that stand for Detective Inspector?
The motoring world has changed so much since I’ve been involved… thankfully. But while seat belt use now has universal acceptance, and drunk driving is less of a problem than before, the likes of mobile phones and drug driving are major dilemmas today. As are complicated SatNav systems that, I fear, cause many accidents. In terms of big changes, who’d have ever predicted that politicians would order us out
of our cars with internal combustion engines, then try to force us into electric vehicles instead? The shift from vehicles that we drive to vehicles that drive us (allegedly) is coming and coming soon, say our leaders. Me, I’m deeply sceptical about driverless cars, their safety, cost, insurance implications and desirability.

I love cars and motoring… they’re warm, inviting personal mobility machines that run 24/7, 365 days a year. If you’ve ever stood at a vandalised bus stop, or on a windy railway platform (and we all have), you’ll fully understand and appreciate the flexibility and comfort of cars – even the most modest models that are cost-effective to buy and run. Sure, traffic congestion can be a pain, but the car still offers good, old fashioned freedom, and that’s to be cherished.

I’ve enjoyed so many great drives… undoubtedly, the journey I treasure more than any other is the one I enjoyed sitting in the passenger seat alongside my dear son Marcus, a few weeks before his tragic passing. During his five-year battle against leukaemia he somehow found the strength, energy and bravery to earn his university degree, pass his driving test, and acquire his first car. He continues to inspire me and others via the foundation he selflessly and courageously founded and part-funded during his final days.