21 Nov 2018

Should repeat drink drivers be banned from the road?

3:52 pm on 21 November 2018

Banning repeat drink drivers from ever holding a licence again could breach natural justice, says a lawyer who specialises in drink driving cases.

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Brake director Caroline Perry says people who keep drink driving should lose their licence forever. Photo: ingridhs/123RF

Gavin Hawthorn - who has a list of convictions stretching back to 1989, including being responsible for four deaths while drunk at the wheel - was yesterday senteneced to home detention after he was caught drink driving in June.

He was found to have crossed the centre line at high speed and hit an oncoming vehicle in 1989 - killing two passengers in his car - and causing severe injuries to the other driver, who later died from the injuries.

Hawthorn was found to have killed again while driving drunk in 2003, when his passenger died in a crash as he drove home from a night in Wellington.

However, spending more than a decade in prison has not stopped Hawthorn's offending.

In June he was caught drink driving again. Yesterday, he was sentenced to six months home detention, 180 hours of community work, and two years disqualification from driving.

Road safety charity Brake director Caroline Perry said the sentence was not tough enough.

"In cases where someone is a serious repeat offender, we want to see stronger sentences and also the option of a permanent loss of driving licence," Ms Perry said.

In New Zealand, repeat drink-drivers can have their licences suspended indefinitely - but not permanently.

Offenders can get their licences back after being assessed at a drug centre, appealing to the Transport Agency, and then resitting their driving tests.

Ms Perry wanted that changed for people who show no care for the lives of other drivers.

"If someone is frequently putting other peoples' lives at risk and showing disregard for the law, why are they able to continue driving?"

Steve Cullen is an Auckland-based lawyer who has worked with people facing drink-driving charges for decades.

He said repeat offending is common and some of his clients had over a dozen convictions for drink driving.

But removing licences for good - with no chance of appeal - could cause problems, Mr Cullen said.

"You wouldn't want that type of approach applied to someone in their twenties or thirties, and then in their sixties or seventies that type of punishment is still applying without the prospect of appeal," he said.

"It would probably be a breach of the Bill of Rights Act and a breach of natural justice."

Mr Cullen said it was hard to stop recidivist offenders.

"Unless we're continually incarcerating people... it's very hard to stop them doing what they choose to do."

Programmes focusing on treating addiction, and the use of interlocks, were at a judge's disposal, he said.

Specific medications which made people violently ill if they drank alcohol were an option, but only if offenders were willing to take them, said Mr Cullen.

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