Revealed: The worst of New Zealand's drink-drivers

New Zealand's worst drink drivers have been revealed in new stats obtained by Newshub.

These 12 serial offenders have racked up 249 convictions between them - and this is just the number of times they've been caught.

They've also caused at least one death during their time on our roads. While the Ministry of Justice doesn't record how many people have been killed by drink-drivers, one of these 12 has been convicted for driving under the influence causing death.

The person at the top of the list - who can't be named - has a staggering 24 convictions. In second place is a person with 23 convictions, while third place is tied by two people on 22.

These are the worst drink-drivers in New Zealand.
These are the worst drink-drivers in New Zealand. Photo credit: Newshub

Many of these recidivist offenders have convictions dating back to the 1980s, and it's unlikely they're going to stop - even if they want to.

In 2018, recidivist drink-driver Gavin Hawthorn was given home detention and community service despite the fact he's killed four people on the roads and racked up 12 drink driving convictions.

Victim advocate Ruth Money told The AM Show it's clear the current system is not working and the public is now at risk because of it. And Labour MP Michael Wood said the law made it "tricky" to stop these people.

"Quite often these people have temporary suspensions put on their ability to drive, but they then go and ignore them anyway, so it's exceptionally difficult," he said.

"One of the things we're doing at the moment is the road safety strategy, which will look at everything - including these issues around drink driving and how we can keep people safe."

Wellington alcohol and drug counsellor Roger Brooking says there are three main factors why people continue drink-driving.

"The first is that they are alcoholics - in other words, they have an addiction to alcohol and have never got it under control. They are so impaired by their drinking, they are unable to make rational decisions," he told Newshub.

"The second is that they may also have traits of anti-social personality disorder, as a result of which they just don't care."

But another reason is the legal loopholes in our drink-driving laws.

"Reality is that only between 5 percent and 10 percent of all drink drivers are told by a judge to attend a program targeting drink-driving," Mr Brooking says.

"The vast majority of drink drivers get their license back at the end of the fixed period of disqualification with no questions asked - even when they have killed somebody."

Former Minister of Police and Minister of Justice Judith Collins told The AM Show last year that some people, like Hawthorn, can't be rehabilitated.

"There's the odd person you can't do much with, you can't rehabilitate, and he clearly is way out there," she said.

"I can't understand why he has a licence, why he has a car to drive.

"I don't understand why he's out there. How many more people does this man have to kill?"

How bad are our stats?

 

The number of convictions over the years.
The number of convictions over the years. Photo credit: Newshub

Statistics obtained by Newshub show the number of convictions nearly quadrupled since 1980 to hit a peak in 2008-2009, but have since nearly halved in the past decade.

But despite the number of convictions dropping hugely, the road toll is still going up.

"Approximately half of all those killed on the roads are under the influence of alcohol or drugs at the time," Mr Brooking says.

And the drop isn't necessarily due to less people drink driving; Mr Brooking says it is also partially due to a drop in enforcement.

"Once the police began to take drink-driving seriously, they were breath testing over 3 million people a year," he told Newshub.

"Since 2009, police have conducted fewer random tests - down to below 2 million a year."

Statistics obtained by Newshub show in 2013/14 there were just over 3 million breath tests carried out, but in 2016/17 that figure dropped to 2.12 million - a fall of 29.8 percent in just five years.

Police Association president Chris Cahill blames the fall in the number of breath tests on a lack of police staff available to stand on the side of the road.

"They're just getting called away to do other urgent police matters and not having the time to invest in road policing that they think they should," he told Newshub in 2018.

Police told Newshub they are committed to removing intoxicated drivers from the roads, and that the decrease in the number of breath tests is due to an increased focus on targeted checkpoints in high-risk areas.

Can we change our drink-driving culture?

 

Perhaps the biggest change has been around how we tolerate drinking and driving.

"[In the 1980s] drink-driving was  culturally acceptable, especially in rural areas and the police made little effort at enforcement," Mr Brooking says.

"In the last 20 years or so drink-driving has become less acceptable within the general population - police have taken a tougher stance and people seem to agree that drink-driving is no longer acceptable."

In order for this to continue, Mr Brooking wants more education and support for the vulnerable.

He wants the drivers licence process to include attending an alcohol education program and anyone convicted of a second drink-driving offence to attend an alcohol and drug assessment before getting their driver's license back.

And he wants the Government to spend more on rehabilitation.

"The Ministry of Health spends $1 million a year on 11 impaired driver programmes running nationwide from 2013 to 2016. This is part of a $10m annual package addressing alcohol and drug abuse as a driver of crime, which is funded by alcohol excise revenue," he told Newshub.

"This is dwarfed by the roughly $850 million a year the government raises from taxing alcohol. If the Government wants to cut the road toll, it needs to spend at least $10 million on drink drive programmes every year to make a real difference."

Newshub.

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