A truck driver who had been driving for 36 hours straight in the preceding 72 hours prior to 11 February 2010, fell asleep at the wheel of a B Double semi-trailer while driving on the Pacific Highway. He failed to negotiate a left hand turn and veered onto the opposite lane where he collided with a car. The car driver sustained extensive injuries and later died.
The truck driver was diagnosed subsequent to the accident with severe obstructive sleep apnoea. He was first charged with reckless driving occasioning death but this was reduced to the lesser offense of negligent driving occasioning death to which he pleaded guilty.
He was sentenced to a penalty of imprisonment of 9 months and 27 days which was then ordered suspended on condition that he pay a bond for good behaviour and he continue medical treatment for his sleep apnoea. His license was disqualified for three years.
The accused has been a truck driver for ten years. He is required by law to take mandatory rests during which he is to completely rest so that fatigue will not impact his driving skills. He altered his work record to make it appear that he had taken the mandatory rest when he, in fact, continued driving. The truck driver had just attended a seminar on Basic Fatigue Management days before the accident. At this seminar, the predisposition of overweight individuals to sleep apnoea was discussed.
His symptoms must have been obvious to him and so he should have sought medical diagnosis for his symptoms knowing the risk to himself and to others if he fell asleep at the wheel. His conduct and behaviour show negligence: a failure to exercise the degree of care required by law for the protection of others.
His plea of guilt should reduce his penalty but he pleaded guilty only after the charge was reduced. Thus, his penalty was reduced only by 17.5 %. As he is not a resident of New South Wales, Home Detention and Intensive Correction Orders are unavailable. Except for this charge, his driving record has been without incident. He earns his living by driving and so the disqualification of his license for the maximum period of three years would serve as a deterrent as it will also ensure that he will not repeat this offense. He was ordered to pay a bond for good behaviour for the period of his sentence and a breach of that bond will result in imprisonment.
Director of Public Prosecutions v. Robert Alan Pearce (2011). NSWLC 32. New South Wales Case Law [online]. Available from: [Accessed 11 April 2013]
Disclaimer : This article is just a summary of the subject matter being discussed and should not be regarded as a comprehensive legal advice for you to defend yourself alone. If you are charged with criminal offences, it is recommended that you seek legal assistance from criminal lawyers.