The number of car drivers using hand-held mobiles has risen by 27% from September 2008 to November 2009, despite research showing it seriously inhibits reaction times.
The proportion rose from 1.1% to 1.4% among car drivers, and from 2.2% to 2.6% among van and lorry drivers - equating to a rise of 18%, said the Department for Transport. Use of hand-held phones at the wheel has been illegal since December 2003.
The findings were very worrying, said the director of the RAC Foundation, Professor Stephen Glaister. Drivers' reaction times slow by almost half when talking on mobiles, and by a third when texting, he said.
"It seems a small, but growing, minority of drivers choose to flout the law. Yet their actions can have tragic consequences. In 2008 the use of a mobile phone was a contributory factor in 16 fatal road accidents and many more where people were seriously injured," he said.
"Police must be given the resources to tackle this menace and drivers persuaded that what they are doing is potentially lethal."
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