The Australian Medical Association (AMA) has called for learner (L-plate) and provisional (P-plate) drivers to lose their licence for a year if they are caught texting and driving.
The proposal for a crackdown on phone use comes after a horror holiday road toll, in which 66 people lost their lives, 28 of them in New South Wales.
It is one of a slew of recommendations to prevent road deaths and injuries. Released on Thursday, it is the AMA's first position statement on the issue.
AMA president Dr. Michael Gannon said the organisation was particularly concerned about the use of phones, navigation systems and other electronic devices in cars, saying they are a distraction and a "major cause of accidents, trauma, and death".
"The AMA supports measures that change driver behaviour," he said in a statement. "We want to change the culture and mentality about using mobile devices in cars.
"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.
"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, and penalties should include the loss of licence for up to a year."
The peak medical body has also called for more stringent controls on learner drivers to ensure they don't lie about how many hours of supervised driving they have completed before getting their P-plates.
Speaking to ABC Radio on Thursday morning, deputy prime minister Barnaby Joyce stopped short of endorsing the AMA's call but acknowledged mobile phone use while driving is a serious problem.
"I'm not going to start saying we should be banning provisional drivers for a year," he said. "There is already a penalty process in place and I'm only too happy to speak to my other COAG (Council of Australian Governments) ministers about what they believe is a good national approach to this."
Joyce said in his recent travels around Queensland he had spoken to a truck driver who emphasised the increase in phone use while driving.
"From where he is in the cabin, he can look down, and he said he can see so many people texting on their phones and it's a major cause of accidents," Joyce said.
"The campaign of trying to get – I think everybody at some point has been guilty of it – to get electronic devices which distract your attention to the road away from you is terribly important."
Older drivers were also targeted in the AMA position statement. The body called for states and territories to adopt uniform criteria when it comes to assessing older drivers, and for public information campaigns encouraging older drivers to talk to their doctors about their capability to drive.
Other recommendations called for laws to combat driver fatigue and for new automated technologies aimed at reducing accidents to be put in all new cars.
Lane Sainty is a reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in Sydney, Australia.
Contact Lane Sainty at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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