Road safety campaigners have called for the fine for using a hand-held mobile phone while driving to be increased to £1,000.
They urged ministers to take action after a study revealed that even more motorists are using mobiles at the wheel than before the £60 fixed penalty for the offence was introduced in 2007.
"Quite clearly, people think they won't get caught," said Sarah Fatica, of the road safety campaign Brake. "Perhaps the fine should rise from the current £60 to something like £500 to £1,000."
A study of thousands of motorists by the Transport Research Laboratory (TRL) found 2.8 per cent were using handsets – more than the 2.6 per cent measured in 2006 before the fines and licence penalty points were introduced.
Analysts who monitored almost 12,000 cars and taxis and 2,500 vans in London this year said the results were likely to be similar across the country.
Since February 2007, drivers caught using mobile phones have had to pay a £60 fixed penalty as well as having three points added to their licence. The previous penalty was a £30 fine.
Mobile phone usage almost halved to 1.4 per cent in the 12 months after the new measures were brought in, but rebounded to 2.8 per cent this year, TRL said. It found women aged 17 to 29 were most likely to use a hand-held mobile while driving. Among men, the most common culprits were aged 30 to 59.
The use of hands-free mobiles by car drivers quadrupled from 1.2 per cent in 2006 to 4.8 per cent this year.
Dr Nick Reed, of TRL, pointed out that the chances of a crash were much higher if a driver was on the phone. He said: "Your reaction time is likely to be slower, you are more likely to drift across into the adjacent lanes and you are less aware of what is going on around you. You are less likely to check the mirrors and know there are vehicles there so you are at a much greater risk of having an accident."
Edmund King, the president of the AA, said: "There has been a reduction in the number of traffic police and the proportion of people prosecuted for using hand-held mobiles is low. You are four times more likely to have an accident if you are talking on a hand-held mobile while at the wheel."
Ms added: "People have to ask themselves if making a phone call is really worth risking their life for."
Nick Freeman, a lawyer known as "Mr Loophole" for his successful courtroom defences of celebrities charged with traffic offences, said: "The prospects of being caught are remote. The use of mobile phone is a massive distraction, whether hands-free or not. The Government should give serious consideration to a blanket ban of the use of such devices while driving."Reuse content