The Government has signalled it could back the confiscation of mobile phones from drivers caught using them at the wheel.
On the day fixed-penalty fines for offenders were doubled from #30 to #60 – and those caught using hand-held mobiles were told they would get three penalty points on their licence – The Birmingham Post spotted dozens of drivers still seemingly oblivious to the crackdown.
Yesterday, Home Secretary John Reid said he was "open" to the idea of confiscation as an even stronger deterrent.
Answering questions on the Downing Street website, Mr Reid insisted the changes would help tackle the "real" dangers, but did not rule out going further.
"(I’m) always open to suggestion that the phone should be confiscated, although given their widespread availability and relatively cheap cost this may not be a deterrent," he said.
Transport Minister Stephen Ladyman said the police were "certainly" going to enforce the new penalties while a new TV campaign would highlight the message about the dangers to drivers.
He said drivers should take particular note that using a hand-held mobile while "wobbling" around a roundabout was just as dangerous as using it on a motorway.
"We have been working with the constabularies around the country; we chose the timing with them, so that they are ready to help us enforce it," he told GMTV.
"We are also, of course, trying to get the message over to people so that it does not need to be enforced. We have a hard-hitting TV campaign about to start that will also get that message over."
He added: "Let’s just remember that most kids get killed by cars in urban streets, in 30mph zones, and it is just as dangerous for people to be wobbling around roundabouts or going around their city streets using their mobile as it is using it on a motorway."
Under the changes coming into effect yesterday, the maximum fine rises to #1,000 if a case goes to court, or #2,500 in the case of a driver of a bus, coach or goods vehicle. Offenders could even be disqualified from driving.
Dr Ladyman was asked if he would back a ban on hands-free mobile phones in cars. "If you are not in proper control of your vehicle, there are already penalties that the police can charge you with," he said. "We would have to be practical in the short term. There are enough people misusing a hand-held mobile phone for us to be concentrating on them at the moment. If we need to go further, then we will."
The AA said the new measures "paled into insignificance" compared with the threat of jail for causing a fatal crash while using a mobile.
It added that too few motorists had made the connection between using a mobile and jail for causing death by dangerous driving.
AA public affairs head of road safety Andrew Howard said: "The new penalties should act as a wake-up call to all drivers who persist in using hand-held mobile phones and fail to see the danger, or consider the chance of being caught negligible. Police can trace back on phone call records to establish use during a journey that ended in a crash. Our best advice to drivers who carry hand-held mobile phones in the car is: get the message, switch to message."
Meredydd Hughes, chief constable of South Yorkshire Police and the Association of Chief Police Officers (Acpo) roads policing spokesman, said: "It’s important to remember that 77,000 people have already been fined for driving whilst using their mobile phones, a figure that highlights this offence is policed robustly.
"The law will continue to be enforced and with the provision of penalties extending to not having proper control of a vehicle, drivers need to be aware that not concentrating on the road could not only cause an accident but also earn them points on their licence and a fine on top of that."
Jools Townsend, head of education at road safety charity Brake, said: "Mobiles continue to cause deaths and injuries on our roads, and while we are glad the penalty has been increased, the new penalties do not go far enough. It is time the Government took steps to ensure the law is properly enforced, and to extend the ban on using mobile phones while driving to reflect research which shows using a hands-free phone at the wheel can be equally deadly."
Mobile phone company Vodafone reported only a slight rise in sales of hands-free kits.