Sam Boyer

Sam Boyer is a police reporter for the NZ Herald.

Worst drink-driver keeps driving

58-year-old Brian Hart has been jailed many times yet the law seems incapable of keeping him off the road.

Photo / Greg Bowker
Photo / Greg Bowker

He's thought to be the worst drink-driver in the country, yet there's little keeping him off the roads.

Brian Mitchell Hart, 58, from Hawkes Bay, has 20 convictions for drink-driving and 11 for driving while disqualified, and has been sent to prison 33 times for these and other offences.

But every time he gets out, he gets his licence back, drinks again and gets back behind the wheel.

He has twice been disqualified from driving "indefinitely".

On one of those occasions, in 2002, he underwent counselling and treatment for alcohol addiction and after an assessment by a government-approved counsellor, was approved to get his licence back by the New Zealand Transport Authority.

Under the law, the toughest sentence for repeat drink-drivers is indefinite disqualification, which can be imposed only under a specific set of circumstances.

A driver must either be convicted of two drink-driving offences within five years, with one of the convictions registering an alcohol reading of 2.5 times the legal limit, or be convicted of three drink-driving offences within five years.

To regain a licence after being disqualified indefinitely, the driver must attend a drug and alcohol assessment centre and show that the drug or alcohol problem has been dealt with.

A spokesman for Transport Minister Gerry Brownlee said that while changes were in the pipeline to lower drink-drive limits, serious and repeat offenders with substance misuse or dependency issues "will require different approaches".

The Government had requested a review of the penalties for court-based drink-drive offences from the Ministry of Transport by July next year, with input from the health and justice sectors, he said.

It would look at international comparisons and a wider range of penalties as well as rehabilitation, monitoring of offenders, and a review of the alcohol interlock programme.

Gerald Waters, whose friend Katherine "Rin" Kennedy was killed near Kerikeri in 2010 by a drink-driver with 17 previous convictions, described the system as flawed.

"Every time he's doing it, the same as all repeat drink-drivers, they're lessening the odds - they're statistically overdue to either kill themselves or someone else. You can't allow these people to drive."

Hart was most recently sentenced on February 14 on two charges of drink-driving - the second while he was on bail for the first - and was again sent to prison for another 12 months.

He was disqualified from driving indefinitely for the second time.

Clinical drug and alcohol counsellor Roger Brooking said the system had failed both Hart and the wider community because he had not been helped to address the alcoholism at the root of his offending, and authorities had made it too easy for him to get back on the road.

"The justice system has failed to mandate Mr Hart into addiction treatment, either in prison or in the community, [so] it must share considerable responsibility for his ongoing offending," Mr Brooking wrote in an assessment to the High Court.

- NZ Herald

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