Police forces across the country have already nabbed hundreds of foolhardy drivers using their mobile phones in a clampdown happening this week.
Authorities want to make using a mobile while driving as unacceptable as drink-driving but, as the Mirror found out, the message is yet to hit home with many.
Our reporters and photographers accompanied officers in Shropshire, Greater Manchester and Liverpool to see the extent of the problem for themselves.
The Mirror parked in a side street in Lees, Greater Manchester, yesterday, in an unmarked police BMW. And in just one minute, 48 seconds, we spotted our first driver on his phone. Veteran traffic officer Steve Bretnall sighed: “I told you it wouldn’t be long.”
Sixty seconds later, the black Mazda MX5 was pulled over at the side of the road. “Where you’re done, you’re done,” admitted the driver, with an air of resignation. He was given a ticket.
Within just 10 minutes waiting by the A49 in Shrewsbury, Shropshire, officers caught three drivers during yesterday’s morning rush hour.
They used two unmarked cars and an unmarked motorbike. Almost immediately, they spotted the first culprit, a builder driving a Land Rover, who was just minutes from his office.
He claimed he had his phone in his hand to dial a number because his Bluetooth connection wasn’t working. But eagle-eyed traffic officer PC Mike Pearce, who spotted him, said he has heard every excuse in the book.
The 45-year-old has 26 years’ experience on the nation’s roads and knows phone use is a huge problem. He said: “It seems people just can’t resist them. People just cannot keep away from social media.
“I have heard all the excuses you can possibly imagine. Some people say, ‘oh, sorry I was just updating Facebook ’, as if that’s OK, while others will do bizarre things like stick tablets to the windshield or phones to the steering wheel.
“One builder threw his phone out of the window as if I was not going to see it. And another woman insisted she didn’t own a mobile phone – until it went off under her seat where she had hidden it.”
PC Pearce’s experience is mirrored by that of PC Bretnall, who told the Mirror: “You would be amazed what a simple stop for using a mobile phone can throw up.”
He added: “I’ve lost count of the number of people I’ve stopped for this and it leads to a conviction for drink or drug-driving. I’ve seen everything. Checking texts, making calls, even people scrolling through Facebook. I mean, checking Facebook while you are driving.
8,000 drivers caught using handheld mobile phones at the wheel during one week
“I’ve attended serious accidents where a driver distracted by a phone has got himself and other people into a very bad situation – fatal situations. We have to make it socially unacceptable, the way people now view drink-driving.”
In the middle lane of the M60, a woman was chatting to her boyfriend, who was on his lunch break, and was pulled over.
The 27-year-old admitted “I’m mortified.”
“It’s a habit thing, I’m really sorry. I just wasn’t thinking. The phone was on loudspeaker, but I won’t do it again.”
In Manchester city centre, another woman driver was lost. But using the phone as a sat-nav in her hand in her BMW Z3 still deserved a pull to the side of the road.
“I never normally do it, but I didn’t know where I was and I’m nearly out of petrol,” explained the 25-year-old, from Cumbria.
“I just think, I’ll know better next time.”
Both women were cautioned.
On the M62 in Liverpool, on Monday, our photographers snapped 11 drivers using their phones as they sped along.
It is illegal to use a hand-held phone while driving, with those falling foul of the law facing penalty points and a fine.
But a survey released yesterday showed 46% of motorists think it is acceptable to check their phone when stopped or in slow-moving traffic.
A poll of 1,000 drivers carried out for Continental Tyres found two-thirds believe technology that disables certain phone functions in the car would curb illegal mobile phone use.
A police clampdown in November last year saw 8,000 drivers hit with fixed-penalty notices , as officers dished out 40 fines an hour across the country.
They also issued 68 court summonses, delivered hundreds of verbal warnings and identified 117 other distraction offences.
Calls to prevent drivers using phones intensified last year in the wake of several high-profile cases. In October, lorry driver Tomasz Kroker, who killed a mother and three children while distracted by his phone, was jailed for 10 years.
The Department for Transport announced plans to double the punishment for using a phone while driving after a hard-hitting Mirror campaign.
Under new rules expected to be set in March, drivers could face fines of £200 and six penalty points.
This comes alongside pressure by ministers calling for motorists who cause death while on a mobile phone to face tougher sentences. Transport Minister Andrew Jones said: “The Daily Mirror’s findings underline why we are cracking down on mobile phone use at the wheel.
“Our plans to double penalties for this serious crime should act as an incredibly strong deterrent.”
Back at Shrewsbury police station, a frustrated PC Pearce told the Mirror: “A common response you get is, ‘why are you pulling me over, shouldn’t you be out catching murderers?’.
“Well, the roads kill far more people each year than murderers do and using a phone just makes them even more dangerous.”
‘Families of victims are given a life sentence’
The father of a girl killed by a mobile-using driver has said he and his family have a life sentence.
In the three years to 2016, over 60 people were killed because of phone use at the wheel.
They included Liberty Baker, 14, who was mown down in June 2014 by Robert Blackwell, then 19, on her way to school.
Blackwell, who swerved on to the pavement while checking his phone, got four years in April 2015.
Liberty’s dad Paul said last night: “I don’t think the message is getting through, it’s so common to still see people doing it.
“It seems accepted, even by passengers when the driver uses a phone. You wouldn’t get into a car with someone who is drunk. The effect of losing someone is life-changing. It’s a life sentence for us.
“Despite the fine doubling as of March, I think people will still see it just as an inconvenience. The Government has the power to ban drivers who use phones at the wheel.”
In October last year, Tomasz Kroker got 10 years for ploughing his lorry into a stationary car while scrolling through music on his mobile on the A34 in Berkshire.
Tracy Houghton, 45, sons Ethan, 13, and Josh, 11, and stepdaughter Aimee Goldsmith, 11, died.
In August 2015, cyclist Lee Martin, 48, from Basingstoke, was killed by van driver Christopher Gard, who was texting. He was jailed for nine years in September last year.