Politicians duck as cyclist's widow targets drink-driving loophole

16:00, Oct 24 2009

THE WIDOW of an Otaki cyclist killed in a collision with an alleged recidivist drink-driver will keep pressuring for law changes to keep drink-drivers off the road permanently.

But despite the government's insistence that it wants to fight the menace of repeat drink-drivers, the police and transport ministers have not yet responded to Jude Pauwels' calls for the closing of a loophole on temporary licence suspensions which lets the alleged killer drive again.

Attempts by the Sunday Star-Times to engage the police and transport ministers were also fruitless, with each ministry referring questions to the other. When asked if the laws around such suspensions should be changed, Police Minister Judith Collins ducked the question, saying in a statement the mandatory 28-day licence suspension "was never intended as an additional penalty".

Pauwels told the Sunday Star-Times yesterday she would not let the matter rest.

Her husband, Frank Van Kampen, 46, was killed instantly on September 18 when he was struck by a car while on a cycleway on SH1, near Te Horo, Kapiti. The driver, Alison Downer, 70, reportedly failed an on-the-spot evidential breath test – blowing 716mcg per litre of breath. The legal limit is 400.

Downer has two previous convictions for drink-driving – a disqualification for five years for driving with an alcohol reading of 1063mcg per litre of breath, and another three years before that for driving with a blood alcohol reading of 252mg per 100ml of blood – more than triple the legal limit of 80mg.

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After last month's fatal accident, Downer's licence was automatically suspended for 28 days, but that suspension period lapsed in mid-October.

As police have yet to lay charges in relation to the accident, Downer can drive again.

Appalled, and fearing for the public's safety, Pauwels contacted Justice Minister Simon Power to see if there was anything he could do to keep Downer and other repeat drink-drivers off the road. He promised to raise the issue with the police and transport ministers but Pauwels has yet to hear from either of them.

When spoken to by the Star-Times, Transport Minister Steven Joyce would not comment specifically on the case but said dealing with repeat drink-drivers was one of the priorities of the current review into road-safety laws.

He will release a new 10-year road-safety strategy in December. Although the government is considering lowering the legal blood-alcohol level for drivers from 0.08% to 0.05%, Joyce believes the best way to combat repeat drink-drivers is a combination of ignition locks and a zero blood-alcohol level.

Detractors would argue that offenders could circumvent an ignition lock by climbing behind the wheel of somebody else's car, but no system was perfect. It was about changing behaviour and repeat drink-drivers were a difficult group to deal with.

"There is undoubtedly a group of people on the road who are repeat and problem offenders and are a much higher risk to everybody else than the average driver."

Sunday Star Times