The New Zealand police department wanted to keep the woman who was asleep while driving and texting off the road for good. The sleeping driver was found by police after she had travelled from Hamilton to Auckland, a 300 kilometres distance. Police have said the woman cannot recall how she had arrived at her destination as she went on a five-hour drive during the night.
A woman in New Zealand was sleeping while driving from Hamilton to Mount Maunganui on the night of August 13. Local authorities also said she was texting while driving her car asleep.
The journey of the sleeping driver has baffled experts who said there many factors to explain why the woman had fallen asleep while driving in New Zealand. These include stress, extreme fatigue and effects of medication.
After the sleeping driver spoke to the police, she was banned from getting behind the wheel for 12 hours while her medical condition was under evaluation. This will weigh heavily for authorities to decide her capability to hold a driver's licence.
Andrew McAlley, Waikato Police Communications Manager, said it was still too early to tell whether the sleeping driver will be charged. It was also not clear whether the police can obtain an injunction to keep the sleeping driver off the road for a longer time. It was revealed that it was not the first time that the woman drove asleep.
Sleep experts debate
University of Auckland's Dr. Tony Fernando was stunned about the news. He was aware of incidents involving drivers with sleep disorders but not with the woman's case in which she drove 300 km to her destination and arrived safely.
Mr. Fernando said some people with sleep disorders can stuck in the "middle of wakefulness and total sleep". He said parts of the brain that require high-level thought could be asleep but the lower brain regions remain active which could explain people walking around while sleeping. Mr. Fernando likened sleepwalking to an elevator stuck between two floors.
Sleep disorder may be triggered by stress and to a lesser extent, sleep loss, alcohol and effects of medication. Dr. Alex Bartle from the Sleep Well Clinic believes the sleeping driver in New Zealand had a case of micro-sleeping. Mr. Bartle explained it is a very short episode of sleep usually caused by extreme fatigue.
Since the woman took sleeping pills before leaving her house, Mr. Bartle said there was evidence to support the idea that some times of sleep medication could cause a person to behave in a strange and automatic way.
However, Professor Richard Jones of the NZ Brain Research Institute in Christchurch disagreed with the theory of micro-sleeping and believes the woman is a severe sleepwalker. She was able a long distance and arrive safely. The professor didn't hear of anything similar to the sleeping driver's case.
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