Australian Medical Association wants harsher penalties for mobile phone use while driving

Tougher penalties for mobile phone users may help to reduce accidents and deaths caused by distracted driving, the Australian Medical Association has said.

The AMA said mobile phones and other electronic devices were a “major cause of accidents, trauma, and death” and said harsh penalties may be the only way to change behaviour.

On Thursday the AMA released its Position Statement on Road Safety 2018. 

Cracking down: The AMA believes introducing harsher penalties for mobile phone use could help change driver behaviour. Photo: FILE

Cracking down: The AMA believes introducing harsher penalties for mobile phone use could help change driver behaviour. Photo: FILE

It is the first time the AMA has weighed into Australian motoring but President Dr Michael Gannon said they were motivated by the “terrible tragedies” happening on roads.

“Doctors – along with paramedics, ambulance officers, and nurses – see the tragic consequences of road trauma,” Dr Gannon said.

“They see when road safety is ignored and when avoidable accidents occur – accidents that take lives and cause horrific injuries.”

Part of the proposal included disqualifying L-plate and P-plate drivers for up to 12 months as a way of encouraging good habits at a young age.

“Your driver’s licence is a privilege, not a right. Drivers who breach the road rules are putting themselves and others at risk, and must face meaningful sanctions,” Dr Gannon said.

“Good habits must be ingrained in new, inexperienced drivers. There should be zero tolerance of provisional and learner drivers who use mobile phones or electronic devices.”

Western Region Traffic Tactician Inspector Peter McMenamin said distracted driving presented a serious danger, not just to that driver, but passengers, pedestrians and other motorists.

Mr McMenamin said specific statistics on drivers being caught on mobile phones while driving wasn’t available for the Western Region.

“But, each time our officers run compliance operations targeting phone usage, they catch an increasing number of people,” he said.

The AMA said it wasn’t just drivers who were being caught out by distractions.

They warned pedestrians and cyclists about the danger of talking on the phone or listening to music

“Using headphones or mobile devices while walking or cycling on or near roads is a serious safety risk, and is a factor in motor vehicle accidents,” Dr Gannon said.

“The AMA is calling for the fundamentals of road rules, including responsibility of pedestrians, to be formally instilled from a very young age through nationwide standards of road safety education.”