Brake launched Road Safety Week with a call for hands-free phones to be banned from vehicles, and for penalties for using a phone while driving to increase from £100 to between £500-1,000.
Brake’s new campaign attracted widespread media attention, and Road Safety Week was supported by Robert Goodwill, roads minister, and ACPO who are coordinating a weeklong campaign targeting drivers using hand-held phones.
Almost exactly a decade after hand-held mobiles were banned at the wheel, Brake appealed to drivers to turn off their phone and urged everyone to refuse to speak on the phone to someone who is driving.
Brake said a Freedom of Information request showed more than 500,000 people have points on their licence for using a phone or being otherwise distracted.
The charity points to research which suggests that 98% of motorists are unable to divide their time without it affecting their driving ability. Brake also said that using a mobile phone, eating, drinking and smoking are all shown to increase the risk of a crash.
Julie Townsend, deputy chief executive of Brake, said: "We’re living in an age when being constantly connected is the norm. More and more of us have smartphones, and find it hard to switch off, even for a minute.
"While there are enormous benefits to this new technology, it’s also posing dangerous temptations to drivers to divert their concentration away from the critical task at hand, often putting our most vulnerable road users in danger.
"Many people who wouldn’t dream of drink-driving are succumbing to using their phone and other distractions while driving, oblivious that the effect can be similar and the consequences just as horrific."
A DfT spokesman said: "The Government is determined that police have the powers they need to tackle any form of dangerous driving, including anyone using a mobile phone at the wheel. That is why this year the fixed penalty for this offence was increased to £100 and carries three penalty points.
"Police can stop and arrest any driver if they believe they are not in charge of their vehicle, and this includes if the driver is using a hands-free mobile device.
"There are no plans to change the law around the use of hands-free devices but all penalties are kept under review to ensure they are appropriate."
Robert Goodwill, road safety minister, said: "The UK has one of the best road safety records in the world and improving this record remains a top priority for the Government. That is why we have increased fines for using a mobile at the wheel, made it easier for the police to tackle bad driving behaviour and we are looking at how we can improve young driver safety.”
Chief Constable Suzette Davenport, national policing lead for roads policing, said: "As technology has advanced, we’ve seen a change in the behaviour of some drivers who are allowing themselves to become distracted and putting themselves and others at risk.
“While a phone call may be important for a few minutes, killing or seriously injuring someone has life changing consequences. While most road users are careful, considerate and law-abiding; a minority are not. Too many collisions are caused each year by those who use excessive speed, drive without a seatbelt, drink or drug drive, or are distracted at the wheel.
“Enforcement and awareness schemes are being carried out by police across the country as part of Road Safety Week, which is an ideal time for drivers to remember the dangers they can face, alongside an opportunity for forces to apprehend those who flout traffic laws."