Tiredness is a major cause of car accidents in Australia. According to the Sleep Health Foundation, 20 per cent of people have nodded off whilst driving, with a further five per cent having had an accident for the same reason.
For a person to be found guilty of dangerous driving, common law states that they must be conscious and acting voluntarily. However, in sleep-related cases, the nature of their driving just before falling asleep is a critical factor to the determination.
In a recent case brought before the District Court of NSW, it was the manner of the applicant's driving that complicated the decision-making process.
Background of the case
In the early hours of the morning on Saturday, 29 August 2015, the applicant, who had just finished his shift at an RSL in NSW, drove home. On his 48 kilometre journey, he fell asleep at the wheel which caused his vehicle to cross onto the wrong side of the road. As a result, he collided with another vehicle which left the victim with significant injuries.
The same day, the applicant was charged on indictment, that, on 29 August 2015, he drove a vehicle in a dangerous manner. He was acquitted of this charge, and instead, the court found him guilty of negligent driving under the Road Transport Act 2013 (NSW), and was disqualified from driving for 12 months.
However, the applicant sought leave to appeal on the grounds that the verdict was:
- Unsupported and unreasonable.
- Inconsistent between counts of dangerous/negligent driving charges.
When reviewing the evidence and statements, the court agreed the plaintiff had:
- Drank plenty of coffee during his 8 p.m. – 3 p.m. shift.
- Wound the window down to let cold air in.
- Turned the radio up to a loud volume.
- Not sped during his drive home.
Despite making the aforementioned efforts to stay vigilant during and after his shift, the court noted the applicant still breached a duty of care. This was because, although he took precautions, there was still a great risk that he could fall asleep behind the wheel as it was revealed he did not sleep for 20 hours. As a result, the court found his actions to meet criteria associated with negligent driving, rather than dangerous. The appeal was dismissed.
If you've sustained injuries as a result of another driver's negligent behaviour, get in touch with the team at Gerard Malouf & Partners to see how we can help submit your claim for compensation.