Editorial: While you were sleeping

20:43, Aug 14 2013

Driving can be soporific.

The blurry vistas passing by on the edges of your vision.

The white lines on the road zipping past.

A bit of sun coming down below the visor.

The sweet momentum of straight roads and gentle curves.

The warmth of the car heater, or the gentle thrum of the wind if it's a fine day and the window's down.


The sheep safely grazing on nearby rolling hills as a picturesque dairy truck comes towards you on what you could have sworn used to be your side of the road . . . zzzz.

Wakey wakey, buster. Sweet dreams have sour endings for drivers, not to mention any poor souls who might encounter them on the roads.

Authorities are spoilt for cautionary examples of the extravagant consequences of drivers sleeping, or merely dozing a bit, at the wheel. Seldom, however, are we presented with a story quite as epic in its folly as that of a driver who, semiconscious at best, drove from her Hamilton home to Mt Maunganui, via Auckland, having taken sleeping pills.

Through an incalculable degree of luck, she was found, safe and sound, slumped over the wheel at her former home in Mt Maunganui at 4.55am.

The folly of this epic drive, of which she remembered precisely nothing, came to police attention only because a friend, who had known of her sleep disorder, had raised the alarm.

So comprehensive was the woman's dissociation from the task at hand that she had at some stages been texting as she drove. To those receiving the messages, it was clear she was half-asleep.

A sleep disorder can be a hard thing to live with but, in cases like this, an easy thing to die from. Easy, too, to kill while doing it.

Not that it takes a disorder. Days ago Mosgiel man Andrew John Earl was convicted of causing the death of Timaru financier Allan Hubbard, and injuring Mr Hubbard's wife Jean, after the judge concluded he was either drowsy or asleep at the wheel.

A recent survey conducted by insurer Allianz Your Cover revealed one in 10 drivers in Europe admitted they had fallen asleep at the wheel of their vehicle and a further one in four acknowledged that they had felt drowsy enough to fall asleep while driving.

The survey also revealed that four out of five people had, by their own reckoning, one bad night's sleep a week and that 43 per cent acknowledged they received less than the recommended seven to eight hours' sleep a night.

On top of which, there is still a perceptible tendency for New Zealand motorists to undertake sometimes epic journeys without allowing for sufficient rest time.

Plaintive calls from traffic officers and road safety commentators not to do this tend to be dismissed as, in general terms, statements of the obvious. But when we have places to go, things to do, and deadlines to meet, we're still seemingly capable of backing ourselves to a fault.

So self-awareness counts for a lot.

The Southland Times