Push for drink drivers to lose cars

By James Fuller

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The father of a young man killed in a road traffic crash has called for the cars of all drink-drivers to be permanently seized.

Ken Evans said his family would never get over the loss of the teenager he called "our beautiful son".

He appealed to Simon Bridges, Associate Minister of Transport and Tauranga MP, to push for legislation similar to the boy-racer car-crushing law. He said it could save other families from a similar fate.

"I don't want to come across as if I'm the only person this has happened to because I'm not and that's just the point. The loss of a child is something no parent should experience.

"Every year there's hundreds more added to the list of people like us who will experience this and live their lives with the fallout. It changes lives forever. And it needn't happen."

Mr Evans, of Tauranga, said drink-2driving was responsible for an unacceptable number of deaths.<inline type="recurring-inline" id="1003" align="outside" enforce-sites="no" />

"I feel it's almost downplayed in our country. I wrote to former Justice Minister Simon Power and replying he said drink-driving was responsible for more than a third of all road deaths and over a fifth of all road injuries. That's a huge number.

"Hypothetically, if a Russian military group rode into town and killed one New Zealander we would go ballistic. Yet we've got a group of people out there who are murdering New Zealanders and we're not doing enough about it."

He said drink-drivers, whether first-time offenders or not, should have their vehicles permanently seized and then sold. The proceeds would be put back into policing.

"The car-crushing law has been wonderful. Very few have actually been crushed but the boy-racers have almost disappeared. You don't hear or see them like you used to. It's a deterrent. What a fantastic law. The boy-racers cause nothing like the death toll of drunk drivers so why not take a similar approach?"

June 22, 1981, was the day Ken Evans' life changed forever. His son Grant had been visiting friends and family in Tauranga and was driving his motorbike back to Auckland, where he had just started a career in banking.

"My wife Jocelyn and I were on holiday in Noosa, Australia, with our other two children Dean and Nicky, who were 10 and 16 at the time. It was night time and there was a knock on the caravan door. The police were there. They said they had some bad news for us and pretty much just came straight out with it: 'Your son has been killed in a motor accident in New Zealand'. It's a huge shock but I think you get delayed shock. You just don't believe it until you get home and see your son lying in a coffin. That's when it hits. Until then you hold on to the thought it must be a mistake, that it's someone else's child."

Grant, 18, was killed when a car travelling in the opposite direction crossed to his side of the road, near Kerepehi, and crashed into him.

"The man went to court and admitted everything, pleaded guilty to dangerous driving. The judge decided that our son was worth a $500 fine and six months' licence cancellation," said Mr Evans.

"You can't put a price on a person's life but what sort of a deterrent is that for people driving recklessly? You've taken a life. I sometimes think it will only be when a judge or politician's son is killed that things will change."

In a letter to his local MP, the Tauranga area spokesman for the Sensible Sentencing Trust urged Mr Bridges to "take their killing machines away for good".

Mr Bridges said he felt huge sympathy for Mr Evans and others who had lost loved ones in road traffic accidents but felt the Government was taking strong steps to curb drink-driving.

"I agreed with the sentiment of Mr Evans' letter, that we should be tough on drink-drivers and I think we are."

He said vehicles could be confiscated under existing laws but said imposing a mandatory regime presented problems.

"There are potential fish hooks with confiscation in all cases. It is better to have some room for independent judgment. Say, for example, a young driver is caught while driving his grandmother's car. Is it fair that the grandmother is punished for someone else's actions?"

Mr Bridges said measures such as zero alcohol limits for under-20s; increased sentences for serious driving offences causing death; mandatory 28-day licence suspension and vehicle impoundment for high alcohol level and repeat offenders; as well as legislation coming into force regarding zero alcohol levels for repeat offenders and alcohol interlocks being fitted to repeat offenders' cars, showed drink-driving was being addressed. He said the underlying causes of drink-driving were also being tackled.

"Last year the Government allocated $10 million to improve alcohol and drug treatment services. Of this, $1 million is ear-marked for programmes to address drink-driving."

The Tauranga MP said the results of these efforts could be seen in the falling road toll.

"We would never be complacent but we have done a lot and will continue to do more."

Jos Mason, founder of former action group Bikers Against Drunk Drivers after she lost her husband Leon in 2007 to a recidivist drunk driver, said seizing vehicles "seems really logical".

"And tough if it's somebody else's car. That's what happened to us. The guy that killed my husband was driving someone else's car," she said. She said seizures for the second offence might be more fair.

But Batch Hales, spokesperson for the New Zealand Council for Civil Liberties, said the idea had no merit, proposing instead a more rigorous counselling service to deter offenders. "That's ludicrous. If you took the cars of first-time offenders ... it doesn't reduce the offending, it makes it worse.

additional reporting by Sam Boyer

- Bay of Plenty Times

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