A man spotted doing his online banking while driving on the M5 near Birmingham, and a minibus driver using his phone while transporting 10 children in Manchester are among the 6,000 motorists caught using their mobile phones illegally since tougher punishments came into force.
More than 200 drivers a day were caught in the four weeks after tougher penalties came into force on March 1 – an average of one every seven minutes.
From the beginning of March, drivers who use their phones at the wheel face receiving six points on their licence and a £200 fine – up from the previous penalty of three points and £100.
In the most serious cases motorists can be fined up to £1,000, while lorry and bus drivers face a maximum fine of £2,500.
New drivers face having their licence revoked if they receive at least six points within two years of passing their test. This means they can be off the road after just one call or text.
More experienced motorists can be disqualified if they build up 12 or more points within a three-year period.
Campaigners claim the “worrying” findings suggest many drivers are ignoring repeated warnings about the dangers of using phones at the wheel despite a string of publicity campaigns and the risk of harsher sanctions.
The Metropolitan Police registered the highest number at 2,037, meaning more than 70 drivers were caught using a handheld phone on London’s roads each day.
Thames Valley Police recorded the second-largest total at 478, followed by Police Scotland (339), Hampshire Police (280) and Cheshire Police (224).
Among the incidents reported by police following the introduction of tougher penalties include:
A study by the Transport Research Laboratory found that drivers’ reaction times are twice as long for those who are texting compared with those who have been drinking.
The RAC Foundation described the increased penalties as “a start”, but warned the figures for March suggest “the key message still isn’t sinking in”.
Steve Gooding, director of the motoring research charity, said: “Driving is a safety-critical activity that requires our full attention. Hands need to be on the wheel and eyes looking out of the windscreen, not down at the phone screen.”
The new figures sparked calls for more investment in traffic policing to compliment the tougher penalties.
There have been falls in the numbers of drivers handed fines for using handheld mobiles in recent years amid reductions in full-time dedicated roads policing officers.
Brake spokesman Jack Kushner described the number of drivers “selfishly using their mobile phones behind the wheel” as concerning.
“Driver distraction is a growing menace and it’s worrying that drivers don’t seem to be getting the message,” he said.
The charity wants the £200 fine to be “significantly increased” to deter offenders.
Twenty-two people were killed and 99 seriously injured in accidents on Britain’s roads in 2015 where a motorist using a mobile was a contributory factor, Department for Transport figures show.
Police say they want to make using a mobile while driving as “socially unacceptable” as drink-driving.
National Police Chiefs’ Council lead for roads policing Anthony Bangham said: “Drivers need to understand that this is not a minor offence and you will be prosecuted under new, tougher penalties.”
He said forces are committed to tackling the behaviour, adding: “Encouraging results from recent campaigns show how effective new tactics and innovative approaches can be.”
What are the rules concerning using phones in vehicles?