Although phone-driving is illegal, motorists caught using a hand-held phone and driving have faced a £30 fine and no points. But this has not proved a strong enough deterrent and drivers continue to phone-drive. Home Office figures for 2004 show that nearly 74,000 fixed penalty notices were issued for illegal use of a mobile phone while driving. The new regulations come in under the much-trailed Road Safety Act.

Announcing the new laws, transport secretary Douglas Alexander said: “Research shows that talking on a mobile phone while driving affects your concentration and ability to react to dangerous situations. It's quite simple — it's impossible to do two things at once and do them well. That is why in December 2003 we introduced new laws preventing motorists from driving while using a hand-held mobile.

“We have seen a groundswell of support for this move. But, worryingly, while 92 per cent of people agree with the law, 21 per cent of drivers admit to breaking it. That is why, from 27 February, the Road Safety Act will introduce a tougher fixed penalty of three points on your licence as well as a £60 fine.”

The Road Safety Act also introduces the same change to the penalties for not having proper control of a vehicle — a measure that can also be used where a driver has been distracted by using a hands-free mobile phone.

If the police or the driver chooses to take a case to court rather than use a fixed penalty notice, the maximum fine is £1,000, or £2,500 for drivers of vans, lorries, buses and coaches.