An appeal against a dangerous driving conviction – in which a woman fell asleep at the wheel and collided with an oncoming car – was refused last week following a ruling that it was a “voluntary act”.
Judges in Scotland’s Criminal Appeal Court said that in the absence of any special circumstances, a jury is entitled to infer that a driver is aware that they are about to fall asleep and that Helen Alexander ignored the obvious dangers of doing so.
In September 2014, Alexander was driving home in Longniddry at around 5pm when she dropped off at the wheel, crossed the central reservation and collided with another car, causing injury to the passengers in the other car.
She was convicted of dangerous driving last August, after the sheriff found that Alexander “had been lethargic and lacking energy as a result of menopausal symptoms”.
There was also a specific finding that by falling asleep, her driving fell far below what would be expected of a competent and careful driver.
At appeal, the question for the judges to answer was whether the sheriff was entitled to convict Alexander of dangerous driving by reason of her falling asleep.
The act of driving, which is deemed to be dangerous, still requires to be voluntary and involuntary actions cannot form the basis of a conviction.
If a driver is asleep, his actions cannot be said to be voluntary, as he lacks consciousness.
However, the appeal judges ruled that the act of falling asleep is voluntary and, when it occurs in the context of driving, will usually be regarded as dangerous.
The judges noted that there are special circumstances that make falling asleep involuntary, and these include the onset of a medical condition, such as sleep apnoea, narcolepsy or a hypoglycaemic episode.
But they added: “However, a driver who knows of his medical condition, and can foresee that he may fall asleep, will be precluded from relying on that condition.”
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