From 27 February drivers caught using a hand-held phone while driving will be given a three-point endorsement on their licence and be fined £60.

Although phone-driving is already illegal, motorists caught using a hand-held phone and driving have faced a £30 fine and no points, 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% of people agree with the law, 21% 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 £1000, or £2,500 for drivers of vans, lorries, buses and coaches.