Kerre McIvor: Lenient sentences don't reflect damage

People who keep on driving drunk need sentences that match the crime. Photo / Dean Purcell
People who keep on driving drunk need sentences that match the crime. Photo / Dean Purcell

I am so grateful I was picked up for drink driving in a routine stop 20-odd years ago.

I was driving home from the Wellington restaurant where I worked as a maitre d, with two colleagues in the car, in the early hours of the morning.

A police officer stopped me and asked me if I'd been drinking. Yes, I said. It was customary to have some drinks once the restaurant had closed for the night - nothing excessive, just a wind down after a long night.

The young woman officer said if I'd been drinking, I was required to blow in the bag, so I did - and I was over the limit.

I was gobsmacked. I had felt completely fine. But the evidence was irrefutable. So I handed over the keys of the car to my young colleague who hadn't been drinking, and I was taken away to Wellington Central police station to be processed.

The whole ordeal was mortifying. It wasn't the fact that my family were so disappointed. It wasn't that my stupidity was written up in the papers. And it certainly wasn't because I lost my licence for six months.

What kept me awake at night was thinking of the damage I could have done to other people.

I had thought it was fine to have a few drinks after work and drive home. I had done it before and had I not been picked up, I would have done it again. Imagine if I'd had to learn my lesson by hurting an innocent motorist.

Travelling everywhere by bus for six months; the thin lipped disapproval of my daughter; the humiliation of standing in the dock - I really did get off lightly.

I have never, ever done it again and I will never do it again. But what's really concerning is that drink drivers who kill, maim and destroy the lives of others are also getting off lightly.

There are so many examples - repeat drink driver, 21-year-old Tyler Walker, was three times over the legal limit when he crashed his unwarranted and unregistered car, killing his mate and seriously injuring his two passengers.

He was sentenced to three years, nine months in prison last year but rather than thanking his lucky stars he didn't get the 10 year maximum, he appealed the sentence, claiming it was 'excessive'.

Another young man, Paul Pifeleti, who killed his cousin after getting behind the wheel and crashing his car was jailed for 22 months.

Regan Laughton rolled his car and killed his mate after drinking at the local rugby club. His sentence? Eleven months home detention and 140 hours of community work.

A repeat drink driver drove into a crowd in Papakura, injuring seven people. One had to have their lower leg amputated; another suffered a broken back and a brain bleed. The driver was sentenced to 28 months behind bars.

There are so many, many more examples. In every case, the judges made stern comments in their sentencing remarks about the idiocy of the choices made by the drinking drivers and the damage they had done to the families of the victims and yet the jail terms don't seem to reflect the seriousness of the crime.

I know our prisons are full to overflowing and I know that locking people up isn't the answer to every crime. But the sentences seem inadequate in the face of such devastation. Families torn apart; careers over; life changing injuries - and the drink driver gets the same sort of sentence as your average recidivist burglar?

It doesn't seem right and it doesn't seem fair. Every time I read about yet another drink driver, and read the victim impact statements of those whose lives will never be the same, I feel furious.

And I also feel so grateful that the drink driver wasn't me and that I learnt my lesson without carrying the death of an innocent person on my conscience for life.

- Herald on Sunday

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