Bolton MP wins national road safety award for campaign to raise awareness of sleep apnoea

Wednesday 8 October 2014

Brake, the road safety charity 

Julie Hilling, MP for Bolton West, has been given a national road safety award by the charity Brake and Direct Line Group for her campaign to improve awareness and diagnosis of sleep apnoea, a condition that puts drivers at risk of falling asleep at the wheel and causing devastating crashes.

Sleep apnoea disrupts sleep by causing the airways to repeatedly close, forcing the sufferer to wake up and gasp for breath, causing acute tiredness. It is thought to affect 1.5 million people in the UK, and is treatable but often not recognised [1] as sufferers often don't recall what's causing them to wake up repeatedly and feel tired.

Sufferers are up to seven times more likely to have road crashes [2], and therefore can pose a huge risk to their own and others' safety. Crashes caused by driver tiredness are thought to kill at least 300 people on UK roads every year [3].

Julie first became aware of sleep apnoea in early 2011, when she was a member of the Transport Select Committee, and was contacted by the parents of a young woman killed by a lorry driver who fell asleep at the wheel. She discovered that her constituency, Bolton West, has particularly high rates of sleep apnoea. Since then, she has continually worked to raise awareness of the issue in Parliament.

Over the past few years, Julie has attended many events about tackling sleep apnoea, including a visit to the Sleep Apnoea Clinic in London. She has kept the issue on the parliamentary agenda with questions to the Department of Health.

On 2 September 2014, Julie secured an adjournment debate on sleep apnoea in parliament. In the debate, Julie called for the Department of Health to appoint a body to improve services for the diagnosis and treatment of sleep apnoea, with screening provided in areas where the condition is widespread, and fast-tracked treatment for at-work drivers who are at particular risk.

As a result of the debate, Health Minister Norman Lamb MP will be taking up the issue of sleep apnoea with relevant organisations to see how the government can improve its diagnosis and care. Julie plans to keep pressing the government to make sure this happens, to help prevent tired driver crashes.

Read more about sleep apnoea, its symptoms, risks and treatment at

Brake campaigns for greater awareness of sleep apnoea and the dangers of driving tired through its wake up! campaign. Tweet us: @Brakecharity, #WakeUp

Julie Townsend, deputy chief executive, Brake, said: "Sleep apnoea is a huge issue for road safety, so we are pleased to give Julie this award for campaigning so persistently to improve its diagnosis and care. Hundreds of thousands of people may be unwittingly putting themselves and others at great risk on UK roads by driving with undiagnosed sleep apnoea – a condition that can be treated. We encourage Julie to keep the pressure up, and we hope the government will follow through on her recommendations, potentially making a vital contribution to reducing the horrific toll of tired driver crashes. We urge anyone who thinks they may suffer from the condition – which is often identifiable through disturbed sleep and snoring – to seek advice and treatment immediately. Whether you suffer from sleep apnoea or not, you should never get behind the wheel when tired."

Accepting her award, West Bolton MP Julie Hilling said: "Brake is a fantastic charity that does great work on road safety and I am honoured and delighted to have been chosen as their Parliamentarian of the Month. Sleep apnoea is a major problem for many of my constituents in Bolton West, causing many serious health issues as well as contributing to many road crashes. I will continue to work with Brake to ensure we get the services we need to help sleep apnoea suffers."

Notes for editors

Brake is a national road safety charity that exists to stop the needless deaths and serious injuries that happen on roads every day, make streets and communities safer for everyone, and care for families bereaved and injured in road crashes. Brake promotes road safety awareness, safe and sustainable road use, and effective road safety policies. We do this through national campaigns, community education, services for road safety professionals and employers, and by coordinating the UK's flagship road safety event every November, Road Safety Week. Brake is a national, government-funded provider of support to families and individuals devastated by road death and serious injury, including through a helpline and support packs.

Brake was founded in the UK in 1995, and now has domestic operations in the UK and New Zealand, and works globally to promote action on road safety.

Road crashes are not accidents; they are devastating and preventable events, not chance mishaps. Calling them accidents undermines work to make roads safer, and can cause insult to families whose lives have been torn apart by needless casualties.

Direct Line
Started in 1985, Direct Line became the first UK insurance company to use the telephone as its main channel of communication. It provides motor, home, travel and pet insurance cover direct to customers by phone or on-line.

Direct Line general insurance policies are underwritten by UK Insurance Limited, Registered office: The Wharf, Neville Street, Leeds LS1 4AZ. Registered in England No 1179980. UK Insurance Limited is authorised by the Prudential Regulation Authority and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority and the Prudential Regulation Authority.

Direct Line and UK Insurance limited are both part of Direct Line Insurance Group plc. Customers can find out more about Direct Line products or get a quote by calling 0845 246 3761 or visiting

End notes
[1] Obstructive sleep apnoea UK health economics report, British Lung Foundation, 2014
[2] Sleep Apnoea Trust 
[3] Loughborough University Sleep Research Centre 

Tags: road safety awards parliamentarian fatigue sleep apnoea