One of NZ's worst drink-drivers jailed

DAVID CLARKSON AND JOELLE DALLY
Last updated 13:02 11/06/2014
Michael Walters
Dean Kozanic/Fairfax NZ

DRINK-DRIVING CONVICTIONS: Michael Walters has been jailed for four years, though he told the court he has an addiction to driving, not drinking.

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A Christchurch man has joined the ranks of those with the dubious title of New Zealand's worst repeated drink-drivers.

Michael Walters was jailed for four years for his 17th drink-driving conviction and his 29th and 30th driving while disqualified convictions at his Christchurch District Court sentencing today.

The 47-year-old continues to deny he has a drinking problem, telling the court through defence counsel Craig Fletcher that he has an addiction to driving and is keen to do courses to address that issue while in custody or after release.

Fletcher said Walters' job was being held open for him, and his partner had made it clear to him that she would be doing any driving.

"He has spent a lot of time in prison and he doesn't want to keep repeating these mistakes."

Police prosecutor David Rushton said Walters' record warranted a starting point near the maximum sentence.

Judge Stephen O'Driscoll said Walter's denial of having a drinking problem indicated he would continue to put the community and innocent road users at risk.

Prison terms had not been a deterrent for him but they protected the community while he was serving his sentences.

He imposed a total cumulative sentence of four years in jail.

"It is a stern sentence but it is specifically designed to protect the community and bring home to you that driving while disqualified and drink-driving is simply not going to be tolerated by any right-thinking persons in the community," Judge O'Driscoll said.

Walters remains under indefinite disqualification from driving. He has a total of 160 previous convictions on his criminal record. He had pleaded guilty to his latest three charges.

Ministry of Justice records show Walters is Canterbury's second worst repeat drink-driver.

Up to January 1, 2014, a 59-year-old Cantabrian had clocked up 18 drink-driving convictions, followed by Walters on 16.

A 48-year-old had 14 convictions.

Three men, aged 43, 53, and 52 had 13 drink-driving convictions each.

Christchurch City Missioner Michael Gorman said for someone to overcome alcohol or drug addiction, they first needed to accept they had a problem and want to do something about it.

The City Mission offers addiction services, but Gorman said no amount of counselling would help someone who did not want to change.

"People like this are a danger. Unless they are prepared to make changes, they'll have to suffer the consequences,"he said.

"It seems from a common sense point of view, he hasn't learnt up until now the risk of harming himself or, importantly, other people."

New sanctions became available to the courts in September 2012 allowing repeat drink-drivers and grossly intoxicated first-time offenders to get mandatory disqualifications and zero-alcohol sanctions.

Andy Knackstedt from New Zealand Transport Agency said the sanctions meant, when such offenders are allowed back into a car, they could be forced to use an alcohol interlock ignition.

Before the vehicle can be started, the driver must provide a breath sample.

As of January 31 this year, 321 interlocks had been ordered by the courts and 158 drivers served their disqualifications and had interlocks installed.

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A further 562 zero-alcohol sanctions have been imposed, requiring drivers to maintain a zero-alcohol limit for three years.

Last November, Transport Minister Gerry Brownlee introduced an amendment bill that would lower the adult breath alcohol limit from 400 micrograms of alcohol per litre of breath to 250mcg, and the blood alcohol limit from 80mg of alcohol per 100ml of blood to 50mg.

Under the proposed legislation, drivers who commited an offence between 251-400mcg of breath would face a $200 infringement fee and receive 50 demerit points.

The bill is expected to be passed this year, with a commencement date of December 1.

Ministry of Justice statistics show that while the number of people convicted of drink-driving has fallen in the past three years from 27,518 to 23,377, the number of repeat offenders has remained virtually unchanged.

NEW ZEALAND'S WORST DRINK-DRIVERS

1st: Eastern Bay of Plenty man Richard Rowe, with 21 drink-driving convictions and 28 for driving while disqualified.

2nd: Hawkes Bay man Brian Mitchel Hart, 58, has 20 convictions for drink-driving and 11 for driving while disqualified. He was sent to prison again in May for 12 months.

3rd equal: Three other Kiwi men have 18 drink-driving convictions, including a 59-year-old Cantabrian and Waikato man Darren Corey Newport, 47, who was last year jailed for two years and five months for his 18th drink-driving conviction and 28th driving while disqualified/suspended conviction.

- The Press

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