Motorists who use their phone behind the wheel to change their music or scroll through social media feeds face £200 fines from next year under a fresh crackdown.
The law is being tightened up to close loopholes and make it illegal for motorists to touch their phones or devices except in an emergency. Drivers who break the rules face fines and six points on the licence.
Hands-free calling and using a phone as a sat-nav will still be allowed, as will using a phone to pay for takeaways at drive-thrus and road toll fees.
A High Court ruling in 2019 said drivers only commit an offence if they use it for “interactive communication” such as making a call or texting, but the Road Vehicles Regulations and Highway Code will now be changed to make the law clearer and easier to understand.
The new regulations will also state that using a hand-held phone at traffic lights or while in standstill at a traffic jam is illegal too.
Driving while distracted is one of the biggest causes of road traffic accidents – as more and more people use smart devices – but the original laws on driving while using a mobile phone date back to 2003, before they were so commonly used.
Driving groups welcomed the move, with Jason Wakeford, head of campaigns at Brake, the road safety campaign, commenting: “Using your mobile phone at the wheel makes your reactions even slower than if you were drink driving, so it’s vital that we all give the road our full attention.
The temptation of using a phone can never be worth someone’s life.”
Edmund King, AA president, added: “By making mobile phone use as socially unacceptable as drink driving, we are taking big steps to make our roads safer.
“To help ensure drivers get the message, we also need more cops in cars to help catch and deter those still tempted to pick up.”
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps has also spoken out about the new regulations, saying: “Too many deaths and injuries occur whilst mobile phones are being held.
“By making it easier to prosecute people illegally using their phone at the wheel, we are ensuring the law is brought into the 21st Century while further protecting all road users.
“While our roads remain among the safest in the world, we will continue working tirelessly to make them safer, including through our award-winning THINK! campaign, which challenges social norms among high-risk drivers.”