Stock photo of a man driving at a high speed down a country road.

Driving (Shutterstock)

Now this is a novel defence — claiming an “addiction” to driving.

Once called a “menace to the people of Ontario,” David Rockey insists a compulsive obsession as strong as alcohol or drink drives him to get behind the wheel — even though he’s under two lifetime driving prohibitions.

His stints in prison haven’t dulled the urge, it seems. In his 34 years, Rockey has earned an astounding 80 criminal convictions, 14 for driving while disqualified and 30 for failure to comply. Back in 2000, he was sentenced to 22 months in prison, later reduced on appeal to 18 months, for leading the OPP on a dangerous 35-kilometre chase along the Trans-Canada Highway that reached speeds of 160 km/h as he tried to evade capture in a stolen van.

Rockey was 20 at the time, with a rap sheet already 24 convictions long. “Somewhere along the line, I have to protect the people of Ontario,” the judge said in rejecting a conditional sentence back then.

There would be many more charges and jail terms that followed, the last ending in 2012, when he served 15 months for fraud as well as for two more convictions for driving while under a ban.

After Rockey was caught once again by police in Brockville last year, a judge decided the father of five should do more time: 18 months to be exact. Rockey appealed, arguing that he’s addicted to driving due to his traumatic past and he needs treatment, not prison.

While the Crown dismissed him as just a “scofflaw,” Ontario’s highest court has actually taken pity on the guy and struck his jail sentence.

“The appellant has not had an easy life. He has made many mistakes, some of which are likely linked directly or indirectly to his troubled childhood. It appears that the appellant is now on a path of rehabilitation, and I commend him for the very positive steps he has taken to get better, and to do better,” Justice Sarah Pepall said on behalf of the three-member panel.

“I remind the appellant that the sentence imposed is called a ‘conditional’ sentence for a reason: If he fails to comply with any of the terms of this court’s order, he could be required to serve the remainder of his sentence in prison. For his own sake, and for the sake of his family, he should make every effort to succeed.”

Everyone agrees Rockey had a horrific upbringing. He was sexually and physically abused as a child and his suffering continued after he was made a Crown ward when he was 10. He’s been diagnosed with general anxiety disorder, anti-social personality disorder, and has symptoms of PTSD.

But seriously, a driving addiction?

Dr. Helen Ward, a forensic psychiatrist, said that despite his claim, the need to drive isn’t recognized as a behavioural addiction because it doesn’t produce a “high.” But she did find driving is a coping mechanism for his severe anxiety.

“My hypothesis would be that for Mr. Rockey, driving a vehicle is psychologically a ‘safe place’ that he retreats to when overwhelmed. There is also likely an unconscious connection for him to feelings of freedom and power,” she wrote in a report.

His treating physician told the court that driving does have many of the components of an addiction for Rockey: The perpetual re-offender keeps getting behind the wheel, despite knowing the negative consequences, and he has a craving obsession to do so. Dr. Adam Newman also said Rockey has improved since he began counselling and taking a medication that has reduced his compulsion to drive.

The doctor warned the sentencing judge that jail wasn’t the answer. “Prison is always an expensive way of making bad people worse, and everybody who I have seen who has had an addiction (and who) has wound up in prison has wound up worse off as a result. I’ve never seen anybody recover from their addiction because they were imprisoned.”

Justice Richard T. Knott didn’t buy the driving addiction and ordered Rockey back to prison.

Now the Ontario Court of Appeal has decided to give him yet another chance. They’ve substituted an 18-month conditional sentence, an 8 p.m. to 5 a.m curfew, 100 hours of community service — and, of course, yet another driving ban.

Source: Toronto Sun