A teenage motorist thought to have fallen asleep at the wheel before ploughing into another vehicle and killing the driver has avoided a jail term.

Samuel Trevor Kneebone, 18, was yesterday sentenced to 200 hours' community work and ordered to pay $200 to the dead woman's husband.

He was also disqualified from driving for 18 months.

Diane Wilton-Jones, from Tauranga, died instantly on January 2 when Kneebone's ute crashed head-on into her vehicle near Maungatapu Bridge.

Kneebone was returning to Matamata for work, and Mrs Wilton-Jones, 68, and her husband, were on their way to a market at Papamoa.

Police believe Kneebone fell asleep at the wheel. He had worked a full week leading up to New Year's Eve, except for one day when he spent a full day hunting.

Mrs Wilton-Jones' husband Graham, 69, was in hospital for three days with broken ribs, a cracked sternum and ankle and hand injuries. Kneebone was also seriously injured and spent time in hospital with chest and abdominal injuries.

In June, Kneebone pleaded guilty to charges of careless driving causing death and careless driving.

Mr Wilton-Jones, who was not in court yesterday, said he and his sons had forgiven Kneebone and believed a prison sentence was not the answer.

"I miss my darling so much, she was such a lovely woman and we spent every day doing things together and had so many laughs together. My life will never be the same. I think about Di all the time."

But Mr Wilton-Jones said Kneebone made a mistake - one that could have happened to anyone.

"To send this young man to jail would have ruined his life completely."