More drivers than ever are being penalised for using handheld phones behind the wheel.
Figures just released by the Department for Justice (DfJ) reveal that 450 motorists are caught every day using a phone whilst driving.
Police issued 164,900 fixed penalty notices for the offence in 2006, a 30% increase on the previous year.
A recent survey of police forces in England and Wales also indicated that the number continued to rise in 2007, despite the introduction of tougher penalties last year.
Drivers caught using a handheld mobile face three penalty points on their licence and a fine of £60.
The official statistics do not differentiate between casual motorists and business drivers.
“We are pleased that the use of handheld phones is something that is being enforced effectively and that members of the public are starting to see the dangers of using their phones at the wheel,” said a spokesman for the Department for Transport.
However, Norman Baker, shadow transport secretary for the Liberal Democrats, indicated that Government measures to deter motorists’ use of mobile phones are failing.
“It is clear that the message about safe driving is just not getting through,” he said.
This is a view shared by Arval, who points the finger of blame at fleet managers as well as drivers.
“These new results should be high on the agenda of any fleet manager.
"Clearly this is still a problem as drivers continue to ignore the safety messages linked to mobile phones,” said Mike Waters, head of market analysis at Arval.
“Companies must realise that the driver is not solely accountable for using a mobile phone and if they don’t manage their drivers closely they are opening themselves up to significant risk.
"If a business call to a driver is found to result in an accident, the company could be held legally responsible.”
However, Julie Jenner, chairman of fleet operators association, ACFO, said that the fleet industry has worked hard to ensure that business drivers are not distracted by handheld or hands-free phones while on the road.
“Fleet operators are leading the way in enforcing driver compliance and fleet policies have been rewritten to reflect changes in the law,” she said.
“Many companies have banned the use of mobile phones behind the wheel altogether – not only to comply with the law but to ensure the health and safety of their drivers.”
Studies show that using a handheld phone at the wheel makes drivers four times more likely to have an accident.