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Victims Family Wants Action On recidivist drunk drivers

A Rotorua coroner wants the Government to introduce legislation that would hold people accountable if they stood by and failed to stop recidivist drunk drivers from getting behind the wheel.

Dr Wallace Bain's recommendations come three and a half years after a horror smash in the Bay of Plenty which saw a repeat drunk driver cross the centre line and kill three oncoming motorcyclists and himself in April, 2007.

The findings also recommend the Government consider submissions made by the widow of one of the victims, who suggests extending the proposed alcohol interlock programme and introducing vehicular manslaughter and homicide charges for repeat drunk drivers who kill.

Bay of Plenty grandfather Gordon Armstrong had been indefinitely disqualified from driving after repeatedly being caught behind the wheel with excess breath alcohol. Despite his family knowing this, they registered a vehicle for him in their own name and on the day of the crash allowed him to drive with his grandchildren in the back seat after an all-night drinking session.

Dr Wallace issued the controversial recommendations today in the hope that legal culpability for facilitating drunk drivers would help prevent a repeat of such a tragedy in the future.

"Those culpable in my view are any person who was in a position to know and do something about it, but who, by any reasonable test, failed to act," said Dr Wallace in his coronial findings.

"This accident should never have happened. Three innocent lives were lost on a beautiful Sunday when riding on their motorcycles and were minding their own business, a drunk, recidivist unlicensed, tired driver drifted across in front of them on to their side of the road and effectively took them out," the report said.

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Dr Wallace said Armstrong's family had facilitated his driving by licensing his car and then moving other vehicles out of the way so that he could drive on the day of the crash despite his young grandchildren asking him not to because they knew he was drunk.

"The inquest raises issues of adults around him aware that he was drinking, aware that he had had little sleep, aware that he was seriously intoxicated, yet stood by whilst he drove a vehicle with three young children in the back seat."

The coroner also recommended that the Government consider submissions to the inquest calling for an expansion of the proposed alcohol interlock program and the introduction of vehicular manslaughter or homicide for repeat drink drivers instead of the current offence of excess breath alcohol causing death.

Jos Mason, the wife of Leon Mason who was killed in the crash alongside friends Antoinette Purchase and Simon Short, made the detailed submissions after launching a high-profile campaign to overturn New Zealand's sentencing laws surrounding drink driving, including the introduction of interlock devices. Her organisation, Bikers Against Drunk Drivers (BADD), which centres around promoting awareness and education, helped push for many of the changes being considered in the Land Transport Amendment Bill currently before select committee.

Mrs Mason is urging them to consider the Coroner's recommendations and include culpability and vehicular manslaughter and homicide into the Bill.

"Because a man and his family wilfully decided it was okay to ignore the law and public safety by repeatedly driving drunk, my children have to suffer every future milestone without their father at their side. There needs to be accountability, but more importantly there needs to be a serious deterrent given to those that enable drink driving so this doesn't happen again.

"Families know when someone is driving drunk and they now need to know that they can be legally held responsible for standing by and letting it happen," said Mrs Mason.

© Scoop Media

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