Was it a one off lapse?

April 16th, 2012 at 9:00 am by David Farrar

NZ Herald reported:

A West Coast man committing his 18th drink-driving offence when overtaking a police car has told a court he didn’t stop because he did not want to have to leave his motorbike to the mercy of thieves.

Overtaking a Police car is rather stupid. Doing it while drunk is even more stupid. Refusing to stop another step up the dumb ladder, and then claiming you were worried your motorbike would be stolen takes the cake.

Longjohn William Sheenan, 64, had a breath-alcohol level of 943mg when he finally stopped after a 1.6km pursuit on December 18, Greymouth District Court was told yesterday.

That is well over double the limit.

Judge Raoul Neave said that the 24-year gap between Sheehan’s 17th and 18th drink-driving offences had saved him from jail. …

“You have not previously offended this century and I am prepared to accept that this was one-off lapse of judgment, although a very silly one. I also accept that you have done your best to put your chequered past behind you.”

The Judge is probably right to give him the benefit of the doubt, as 24 years is a long time.

However if I had to lay money on it, I’d say Mr Sheenan has driven drunk many times over the last 24 years, and just hasn’t been caught. Very very few people get done for the only time they do it.

According to ALAC:

Police estimate that each day in New Zealand, approximately 5,923 compulsory breath tests and 2,743 mobile breath tests are undertaken and 100 people are charged with drink driving (New Zealand Police, 2010).

So on average there are 8,500 breath tests a day. Now if each day there are 850,000 motorists driving about, then you get breath tested on average 1 in 100 times. Based on my experience, it is even less often that that.

So if you drink drive once per month, then you could easily go a decade without being caught, on average.

Now also consider that to have racked up 18 drink drive convictions, the possibility he has driven drunk over 1,000 times. Of course there are other factors, such as Police may target you if known to be a problem, and bad driving may get you pulled over more often. But still 18 convictions still implies a huge number of times driving when drunk.

The AA quotes US research that

An American study quoted by MADD (Mothers Against Drunk Driving) found that drink drivers in the US have driven drunk on average 87 times before being caught.

As I said, I think Mr Sheenan is fortunate to avoid jail, especially as he refused to pull over.

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14 Responses to “Was it a one off lapse?”

  1. wreck1080 (3,956 comments) says:

    Drink driving is very serious, and many people die from drunk drivers every year.

    I completely disagree with the judge, he is lessening the offence of drunk driving through this ruling.

    I reckon you probably only get caught 10% of the time you drunk drive on average. Maybe even less if your pub announces police checkpoints (that disgraceful behaviour is aiding and abetting drunk drivers) or you have figured out a rarely policed back road.

    So, he has likely driven drunk many times over the last 24 years.

    Until we start treating the crime of drunk driving seriously this will not stop.

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  2. mikenmild (11,662 comments) says:

    The judge couldn’t really sentence him on a basis of “I’m sure you have been driving drunk on many other occasions but haven’t been caught” though, could he?

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  3. KiwiGreg (3,259 comments) says:

    So are the police saying that they needlessly violate the rights of 8400 motorists a day with intrusive breath testing when they aren’t driving drunk?

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  4. Grendel (1,003 comments) says:

    just think of all the actual police work they could be doing instead of wasting time on revenue gathering and ‘pre crime’.

    a client of mine is still waiting, a week and half later for the police to come around and discuss her burglary. the contents claim needs the police statement and they are too busy to come around. meantime the thieves have almost certainly knocked off a bunch more places and her stuff is long gone.

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  5. Elaycee (4,403 comments) says:

    @KiwiGreg – since when does an initiative to take the drink drivers off the road, been any infringement of rights?

    My ‘rights’ as a driver include the ‘right’ to drive on roads where the Police actively remove morons. And it that means that I am stopped once in a blue moon as part of a drink driving blitz or a random stop to check WOF and Registration [cough], then so be it. I have no problem with it at all.

    But recidivist morons such as this idiot with 17 previous DIC convictions, should be off the road permanently.

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  6. mikenmild (11,662 comments) says:

    I think KiwiGreg’s point is whether random breath testing is just a big waste of time and resources. We know that habitual drunk drivers actually have a very low chance of being caught. Are there better ways of targetting these offenders?

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  7. berend (1,715 comments) says:

    DPF: As I said, I think Mr Sheenan is fortunate to avoid jail, especially as he refused to pull over.

    The next victim of a drunk driver will probably be called “less fortunate”.

    It’s a disgrace that drunk drivers are not meeting harsher penalties given the way they feature in accident statistics.

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  8. dubya (243 comments) says:

    His name is Longjohn? I hope he was drinking homebrewed Jamaica rum.

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  9. Longknives (4,859 comments) says:

    KiwiGreg/Grendel- I got stopped at a checkpoint on the way home the other night… I couldn’t care less, happens every now and then..It’s not really such a problem if you’re sober is it?? This ‘Civil Libertarian’ attitude puzzles me….

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  10. Ed Snack (1,925 comments) says:

    Hang on a bit though, last time he was nicked for DIC was back in 1988. Like it or not that’s a fair while ago, I’m reasonably relaxed about that sort of gap. He may be a recidivist drinker and driver, but unless you want to go all fascist about it, it’s hard to justify additional harshness because he might have done so in the years since his last conviction but wasn’t caught. Why not just charge everyone with driving while over the limit on suspicion, just about everyone’s probably done it once, so lets just nick everyone now.

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  11. Nostalgia-NZ (5,274 comments) says:

    It’s gone unreported that his pillion passengers name was Captain Hook, in my opinion that puts a whole different light on things he might have been pirating for the last 24 years and who knows how many times he was at the helm when intoxicated.

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  12. Elaycee (4,403 comments) says:

    “Hang on a bit though, last time he was nicked for DIC was back in 1988…. …. I’m reasonably relaxed about that sort of gap.″

    Well, I’m not – 1988 was his 17th conviction for DIC!

    This prick should never be at the wheel again – ever. For the 18th time, he has demonstrated he cannot be trusted.

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  13. F E Smith (3,307 comments) says:

    DPF,

    I am going to disagree with you slightly, although only on the calculations. In my experience, people who have that many previous convictions were in the grip of a severe addiction at the time. It probably lasted a number of years before he (most likely) got on top of it. What I have noticed about people with an alcohol addiction who drink and drive (and some don’t) is that they aren’t very good at not getting caught, at least on a semi-regular basis.

    Had it been only 5 years since his last conviction, I would be more inclined to agree with you fully, but with a 24 year gap, I suspect that he hasn’t done it much (although, like you, I would think it was still more than once) since conviction number 17.

    That said, he was more than twice the limit, he didn’t pull over and it was number 18, so he is lucky to avoid prison. Were he my client, I would have had him down the alcohol counsellor for an assessment immediately, to determine what needed to be done to try to prevent there being a number 19, and I would have given the judge a copy of the report in advance so that he knew where I was going to go with my plea in mitigation. I strongly suspect that would have happened in this case, plus a number of very good references from prominent community and family members.

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  14. brucehoult (200 comments) says:

    What is stupid about overtaking a police car? I do it all the time — without exceeding 109 km/h, of course. Never had a problem doing it.

    I hate seeing a queue of cars sitting behind a police car that is tootling along at 90 km/h with everyone afraid to overtake.

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