Penalty points and fines to double from Wednesday, meaning newly qualified drivers will lose their licence if caught.
Newly qualified drivers will lose their licence if caught using a handheld mobile phone at the wheel, under tougher penalties that come into force in England, Scotland and Wales on Wednesday.
Penalty points and fines for using a phone while driving will double, to six points and £200, in what the government said it hoped would act as a strong deterrent to what motoring organisations call an “epidemic” on the roads.
Drivers can have their licence revoked if they accrue six points within two years of passing their test. Those caught using their mobile twice, or who accrue 12 points on their licence, will face magistrates’ court, disqualification and fines of up to £1,000.
Twenty-two people were killed and 99 seriously injured in road accidents where drivers were using a mobile phone last year in Britain.
The transport secretary, Chris Grayling, said: “Our message is simple and clear: do not get distracted by your mobile phone while driving. It may seem innocent, but holding and using your phone at the wheel risks serious injury and even death to yourself and other road users.
“Doubling penalties will act as a strong deterrent to motorists tempted to pick up their phone while driving and will also mean repeat offenders could find themselves banned from our roads if they are caught twice.
“Everyone has a part to play in encouraging their family and friends not to use their phones while driving – it is as inexcusable as drink driving.”
Reaction times are twice as long for drivers who are texting compared with those who have been drinking, according to the Transport Research Laboratory.
Police forces across the country will be increasing patrols and cracking down on mobile use until 7 March. A coordinated national enforcement week in January saw about 3,600 drivers handed penalties.
A consultation last year on proposed tougher penalties for using a mobile while driving received almost unanimous support, the Department for Transport said. Chief constable Suzette Davenport, the head of roads policing on the National Police Chiefs’ Council, said: “These new penalties reflect the seriousness of the offence and will strengthen the deterrent against using a mobile phone at the wheel. We need people to understand that this is not a minor offence that they can get away with.”
The RAC road safety spokesman Pete Williams said: “The use of handheld mobile phones is at epidemic proportions and sadly the attitudes of many drivers have relaxed towards this illegal and dangerous activity. The new tougher penalties will therefore be welcomed by law-abiding motorists as a better deterrent.”