The government is considering doubling the number of penalty points motorists receive when they are caught using a handheld mobile phone at the wheel, following a recommendation from the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police.
Under the proposal put forward by Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe, drivers committing the offence would receive six penalty points, meaning that anyone caught on two occasions in a three-year period would lose their licence, reports The Guardian.
Secretary of State for Transport Patrick McLoughlin said he was taking the suggestion seriously since the "amounts of casualties there have been are absolutely appalling".
He continued: "The person using their phone doesn't realise the damage or the danger they can be in. It ends up ruining different people's lives – those who are driving as well as those who are injured.
"It is one that I want to look at. There could be some difficulties about it but I think we've got to get that message across to people about safety.
"We have been very lucky in this country in seeing, year on year, the number of road deaths and casualties actually falling. But one death is one too many and we need to look at those and see where we are going."
AA President Edmund King agreed that stricter penalties were needed, but added that greater enforcement of the law was also necessary.
"The current deterrent just isn't working,” he said. “Many drivers seem addicted to their phones and just can't resist looking at a text or tweet at the wheel," he said.
"We need a concerted effort to crack this addiction with harsher penalties linked to an information and enforcement campaign. Ultimately it will take more cops in cars to get motorists to hang up behind the wheel."
Professor Stephen Glaister, director of the RAC Foundation, said mobile phone use could be more dangerous than driving while under the influence of drink or drugs, and also called on police to step up enforcement.
He said: "Our own research shows how dangerous using a mobile at the wheel can be.
"Texting while driving impairs reactions more than being at the drink-drive limit or high on cannabis.
"However the large number of motorists still using phones at the wheel is less about the size of penalties and more about the chance of being caught.
"The Department for Transport's own figures show that on two previous occasions when this law was tightened and fines increased the number of people offending initially dropped but then rapidly rose again.
"The conclusion must be that drivers simply don't think they are going to be caught," he added.
Launching a campaign last November urging motorists not to use handheld devices such as smartphones at the wheel, the road safety charity, Brake, said that 575,000 drivers had received penalty points for illegal use of a mobile phone or being distracted in some other way.
Simon joined road.cc as news editor in 2009 and is now the site’s community editor, acting as a link between the team producing the content and our readers. A law and languages graduate, published translator and former retail analyst, he has reported on issues as diverse as cycling-related court cases, anti-doping investigations, the latest developments in the bike industry and the sport’s biggest races. Now back in London full-time after 15 years living in Oxford and Cambridge, he loves cycling along the Thames but misses having his former riding buddy, Elodie the miniature schnauzer, in the basket in front of him.