DRIVERS picking up and using their phones at the wheel face a £200 fine and six points under new tougher legislation.

Currently motorists are banned from using hand held devices to make calls or to sending texts – and transport chiefs say that for ‘far too long’ drivers have been able to escape punishment under the current legislation when using their mobiles for other uses, such as taking photographs.

The new law, set to be introduced early next year, stops short of banning the use of ‘hands-free’ functions, including using a mobile phone as a sat nav secured in a cradle.

And drivers will be allowed to use mobiles to make payments at a drive-thru takeaway.

Roads Minister Baroness Vere said that for “too long risky drivers have been able to escape punishment under the current legislation”.

She said: “Our roads are some of the safest in the world, but we want to make sure they’re safer still by bringing the law into the 21st century.

“That’s why we’re looking to strengthen the law to make using a hand-held phone while driving illegal in a wider range of circumstances.”

“It’s distracting and dangerous, and for too long risky drivers have been able to escape punishment, but this update will mean those doing the wrong thing will face the full force of the law.”

A car being driven at 30mph travels 100 feet in 2.3 seconds, which transport chiefs say demonstrates how spending a moment to change a song on a playlist or check an app can result in a crash.

RAC head of roads policy Nicholas Lyes said: “The closing of this loophole is very welcome and reflects the multitude of ways drivers can use hand-held phones when behind the wheel in 2020.

“We know that the use of hand-held mobile phones at the wheel continues to represent a very real road safety risk, so it’s clear more needs to be done to make this as socially unacceptable as drink-driving.

“It’s important that alongside this change to the law, the Government looks seriously at other options that can help enforce the law, which should include new camera technology that can detect different types of hand-held mobile phone use.”

The change in law would apply across Britain and is expected to come into effect early next year, pending the outcome of a consultation.

In 2019, there were 637 casualties on Britain’s roads – including 18 deaths and 135 serious injuries – in crashes where a driver using a mobile was a contributory factor.

National Police Chiefs’ Council lead for Roads Policing, Chief Constable Anthony Bangham, said: “Using a mobile phone while driving is incredibly dangerous and being distracted at the wheel can change lives forever.

“Police will take robust action against those using a hand-held mobile phone illegally and proposals to make the law clearer are welcome.”

The punishment for drivers caught breaking the rules on hand-held mobile use are six penalty points and a £200 fine.