Australian Medical Association calls for tougher penalties for mobile phone use while driving

The Australian Medical Association has called for harsher penalties for people caught using their mobile phone while driving, saying a driver’s licence is “a privilege, not a right”.

In an unprecedented move for the doctors’ representative group, the AMA has released a “position statement” on road safety.

And it focuses heavily on the use of electronic devices on the road.

AMA President Michael Gannon said “the AMA is committed to advocating for improvements in the way Australians drive”.

“The AMA is particularly concerned about the use of mobile telephones and electronic devices, including navigational devices, in cars,” Dr Gannon said.

“Mobile phones and other devices are driver distractions, and a major cause of accidents.

“We want to change the culture and mentality about using mobile devices in cars.”

Dr Gannon stressed that there should be “zero tolerance” of both P-platers and L-platers driving while using electronic devices, saying that penalties should include loss of licence for up to a year.

“Good habits must be ingrained in new, inexperienced drivers,” he said.

The AMA says it is also concerned about pedestrians and cyclists using headphones, earpieces and mobile devices.

Dr Gannon noted that such practices posed a “serious safety risk” and factored into motor vehicle accidents.

Road Safety Advisory Council chairman Gary Bailey urged drivers to “leave their phone alone”.

He said it was “concerning” that 53 Tasmanian drivers had been booked for using their phones while driving between December 22 and January 1.

"Turning off your phone or turning it on silent turns off the potential for distraction,” Mr Bailey said.

Police Minister Rene Hidding said he had had discussions with Australian transport ministers at national forums about the potential for technology to disable mobile phones while driving.

“Penalties are always under … review,” Mr Hidding said.