Observations carried out by the Department for Transport (DfT) have revealed that drivers who illegally use their mobile phone at the wheel are more likely to be sending text messages or using social media sites than making a phone call.

The DfT carried out its observations at 60 sites in five areas of England and 30 in Scotland. Overall, 1.1% of drivers were found holding a mobile in their hand compared with 0.5% with a phone to their ear. Van drivers were found to be using their phones the most, with 2.7% caught flouting the law.

Driving while using a mobile phone was made illegal in 2003, but the use of hands-free mobile phones is still permitted. However, if police believe a driver is distracted using a hands-free device, they may still face a fine or ban.

A driver can receive three penalty points, a fixed penalty notice or a fine of £100 if they are caught using their mobile phone at the wheel. Drivers may also be banned and receive a fine of up to £1,000 if their case goes to court.

According to road safety charity, Brake drivers are four times more likely to crash while speaking on a mobile phone and people who text while driving are found to have 35% slower reaction times and poorer lane control.

David Robinson, a serious injury solicitor at Thompsons Solicitors specialising in road traffic collision claims, said: “Driving while using a mobile phone is a deadly risk which too many drivers take with little consideration for their own safety or for the safety of those around them.

“Driving requires your full attention at all times, and research shows that using a mobile phone at the wheel significantly increases the risk of being involved in a road traffic collision.

“What makes the DfT’s findings even more alarming is that people are risking their own lives, and the lives of other road users, by taking their eyes off the road to read a text or browse Facebook. If a driver considers checking their social media account, reading a text, or even making a call as a priority above their safety, then frankly they should not be behind the wheel. I think being caught using a mobile phone while driving should be treated the same as driving under the influence of drink or drugs.”