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The Australian Medical Association has called for tougher penalties for drivers that text or use their mobile phones while driving – including a one-year loss of licence for P-plate and L-plate drivers.

Releasing the AMA Position Statement on Road Safety 2018, AMA President, Dr Michael Gannon, said that the AMA is committed to advocating for improvements in the way Australians drive, the cars they drive, and the roads they drive on.

“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.”

New data from the Department of Infrastructure revealed that the economic cost of road trauma sits at $27 billion annually, with about 90 per cent of all motor vehicle accidents caused, at least in part, by human error.

The release comes in the wake of a horror 2017-2018 holiday period on Australian roads, with the AMA strongly urging motorists to take extra care on the roads over the New Year season.

“At this time of year, more families are travelling on our roads. Sadly, we have seen terrible tragedies, with 66 people dying in car crashes across Australia this holiday period,” Dr Gannon said.

“The AMA supports measures that change driver behaviour. We want to change the culture and mentality about using mobile devices in cars.”

Along with changing behaviour, part of the AMA’s efforts is to educate drivers about the dangers of using a mobile phone. Current Australian research is limited, but a study by the Virginia Tech Transportation recently investigated the increased risk posed by different activities.

The risk of an accident increased by:

  • Five times when using in-vehicle devices or reaching for a phone
  • Six times when texting
  • Nine times when reaching for something other than a phone
  • 10 times when reading
  • 12 times when dialling a hand-held phone

“On average, three people die on Australian roads every day and 90 are seriously injured – two permanently,” Dr Gannon said.

“That represents about 33,900 adults and children every year who are killed or maimed in avoidable incidents, and thousands more who are affected by the trauma of losing a partner, relative, or friend.”

Uniformed testing for older drivers

In another positive move, the AMA is also calling for uniform, national criteria for assessing older drivers.

“All States and Territories must adopt uniform criteria for assessing the functional ability of older drivers, as the discrepancies between jurisdictions are problematic,” Dr Gannon said.

Data collected from the Transport Accident Commission (TAC) has shown that drivers over 75 have a significantly higher risk of being killed in a crash than any other age group.

Source: TAC

It is thought that slower reaction times, loss of clarity/muscle strength, the use of prescription drugs, along with general physical and mental changes are to blame for the significant increase.

“Doctors should be providing advice on when to retire from driving,” Dr Gannon said.

“This may require medical examinations or assessments of drivers beyond a specified age.”

More details on the Australian Medical Association’s position can be found here.