The number of repeat drink-drivers caught on New Zealand roads is showing a worrying upward spiral, and is a problem police are struggling to counter.

The number of recidivist drink-drivers has risen steadily over the past three years, and more than 4000 have been prosecuted already this year.

Many of them are involved in fatal crashes.

Figures released to the Herald on Sunday under the Official Information Act reveal 7200 people were convicted of their third or more drink-driving offence in 2009 compared with 6995 in 2008 and 6639 in 2007.

This year to date 4134 have been prosecuted and police expect the number to rise to the 7000 mark over the next four months. This week alone two cases of repeat drink-drivers have made the headlines.

On Wednesday, Tauranga man Dylan Hogg, who had seven drink-driving convictions and been to prison twice as a result, died after he crashed his car into a power pole near Te Puke. Police believe he had been drinking.

Hogg, 34, was disqualified from driving and had been ordered by the court not to drink.

"He did not take life too seriously, he sort of liked to take life at his terms and his pace," his cousin Reon Hogg said.

On Thursday, a repeat drink-driver fleeing a checkpoint collided with a police car during a pursuit in Hamilton.

Police pursued the man for 10km before he hit the patrol car trying to halt him. He had a breath alcohol reading of 804 micrograms per litre - more than twice the legal limit. The man had also been disqualified from driving and was already on bail for drink-driving and driving while disqualified.

Last year 123 people were killed in car accidents where alcohol was a factor. A further 2254 people were injured.

The worst area for repeat drink-driver prosecutions was Counties Manukau, with 906 people caught over the limit for the third or subsequent time.

The Bay of Plenty was second highest, 870, followed by Waitemata, 770, Waikato, 697, and Canterbury with 624.

Senior Sergeant Mike Stopforth from the Counties Manukau road policing unit said drink-driving was a "huge" problem in the district.

"We have been focusing on drink-driving and trying to drive the numbers down. At our worst, we would run a two-day weekend operation and get one driver in 50 over the limit. In more recent operations we have been looking at around one in 200, so it is improving slowly," he said.

"Recidivists make up a significant proportion of the drink-drivers we deal with."

He said police had a list of recidivists' vehicles and were targeting them.

A road crime unit had been set up.

"We are using various methods to identify recidivist drink-drivers and target them. There are measures in place whereby recidivists face more serious penalties for their third or subsequent offences. Courts can order recidivist drink-drivers to attend courses that help address their problems."

Stopforth believed recidivist drink-drivers were ignorant about the consequences of their actions.

"Being disqualified and fined does not show an offender what it is like to be involved in a fatal crash where they may take the life of a loved one or some other complete stranger. It is a very hard message to get across. There is a lot of 'it won't ever happen to me' mentality."

National road policing manager Superintendent Paula Rose said 17 in every 10,000 people in New Zealand were repeat drink-drivers.

"Repeat offenders are a huge concern. These people present real road safety risks and clearly they haven't learned the first time, or the second time or even the third time," she said.

Rose said most people who had three or more convictions for drink-driving had an alcohol problem.

Family and friends needed to give them the support they needed to get help.

She was reluctant to "talk tactics" and give specific details of plans to catch recidivist drink-drivers. But she said drink-driving was a "really high priority" and police had a range of things they were doing to catch repeat offenders.

The Government is also planning a range of measures to combat drink driving, including a zero alcohol limit for recidivist drink-drivers and drivers under 20 years of age and tougher penalties for people who drink and drive causing death.

Rose said recidivists failed to understand the seriousness of their offending.

"They get caught, but they haven't killed anyone. Or, they've done it a few times and not been caught. Or, they just don't think."

She said it was not just up to police to crack down on recidivists.

"It's not the police officers sitting down having drinks with these people, then watching their backs as they walk out the door and get in their cars. This is a societal thing.

"I think our attitude and behaviour around alcohol in New Zealand is poor. The whole of our population needs to stand up and be accountable and not just accept this.

"The last thing we want is death and trauma on our roads. That's why we go so hard out targeting drink-drivers. It's just such a risk. If you're out there and you choose to drink and drive - we're coming to get you."