Drivers will no longer be able to escape punishment for using a hand-held mobile phone at the wheel after the Government revealed plans to close an outdated legal loophole.

At present, drivers are only banned from making calls or texting while in charge of a vehicle with pressure mounting for the law to be brought up to date to include functions like taking a photo, watching videos or playing games.

The Department for Transport’s decision to review the law is a positive step towards making phone use as socially unacceptable as drink-driving.

Hands-free phone use will still be allowed under the proposals, despite calls from some ministers that certain functions are just as distracting as hand-held use.

An exemption will be made under the plans to allow mobiles to be used for contactless payments as long as the vehicle is stationary and goods are delivered immediately.

Expected to come into effect during early 2021 the law change would apply across the whole of the UK with the punishment for breaking hand-held law amounting to six penalty points and a £200 fine.

Last year alone in the UK, there were 637 casualties from incidents involving a driver using a mobile at the wheel which included 18 deaths and 135 serious injuries.

National Police Chiefs’ Council lead for Roads Policing, Chief Constable Anthony Bangham, said: “Using a mobile phone while driving is incredibly dangerous and being distracted at the wheel can change lives forever.

“Police will take robust action against those using a hand-held mobile phone illegally and proposals to make the law clearer are welcome.”

Research by the University of Leeds showed that from a sample of 52 drivers over a total of 765 journeys, some 662 phone interactions were observed, of which only 38 were completely hands-free.

A car being driven at 30mph travels 100 feet in 2.3 seconds, demonstrating how spending a moment to change a song on a playlist or check an app can so easily result in a crash.

Baroness Vere, Roads Minister, said: “Our roads are some of the safest in the world, but we want to make sure they’re safer still by bringing the law into the 21st century.

“That’s why we’re looking to strengthen the law to make using a hand-held phone while driving illegal in a wider range of circumstances.

“It’s distracting and dangerous, and for too long risky drivers have been able to escape punishment, but this update will mean those doing the wrong thing will face the full force of the law.”