More than a third of UK police forces are using mobile speed cameras to prosecute drivers not wearing seatbelts or using handheld mobile phones.

Road safety charity IAM Roadsmart submitted Freedom of Information requests to 44 police forces, and found that 16 of them use the pictures from the cameras in their vans to pursue these offences as a matter of routine, and a further four do so occasionally.

More than 8,000 drivers not wearing seatbelts were recorded by the cameras in 2016, along with around 1,000 with a mobile phone in their hand.

The charity says this use of the cameras is good news for road safety, as its surveys have found that 80% of drivers think distraction from phones has got worse in the last three years, and also that motorists rate mobile phone laws second only to drink and drug driving as a traffic police priority.

IAM Roadsmart chief executive officer Sarah Sillars said: “Drivers should be reassured that the police are using all the tools in their road safety toolkit to address their top worries.

“For too many drivers it is only the fear of being caught that will stop them putting themselves and others at risk from smartphone distraction.

“Not wearing a seatbelt also puts an unfair burden on our emergency services, who have to deal with the aftermath of such selfish behaviour.

“If drivers don’t know about this added enforcement technique then its impact will be reduced, so the police should have no hesitation in publicising its use.”

IAM Roadsmart said that some police forces it spoke to had reservations about using safety cameras or camera vans to record non-speeding offences, and that questions around Home Office type and image quality for successful prosecution still need to be resolved.

Sillars added: “Our research shows that the use of mobile safety camera vans to pursue phone users and seatbelt offenders varies from one force to another.

“What we need are clear and consistent guidelines on what the cameras are being used for, what training staff are being given and how the images are being used as evidence.

“The last thing we want to see are resources being wasted or the road safety message being diluted by careless drivers being acquitted.”