POLICE forces across the South West have teamed up to crack down on people using their mobiles while driving.

Devon and Cornwall Police and the Devon and Cornwall Police and Crime Commissioner have teamed up with other forces as part of the initiative. 

It comes as figures from the RAC show that the number of motorists who illegally use mobile phones while at the wheel is rising.

1,714 motorists were surveyed and 31 per cent of said they used a handheld phone behind the wheel. That compares with eight per cent in 2014.

The number of drivers who said they sent a message or posted on social media rose from seven per cent to 19 per cent, while 14 per cent said they had taken a photograph or video while driving.

Department for Transport figures show that a driver impaired or distracted by their phone was a contributory factor in 492 accidents in Britain in 2014, including 21 that were fatal and 84 classed as serious.

Roads Policing Inspector Pete Thomas said: “Driving is difficult enough without adding other distractions. When you’re behind the wheel, forget about who may be texting you, or what your friends may be putting on Facebook. Focus all of your concentration and attention on your driving to keep you safe, your friends and family safe and other people on the road safe.”

The police are keen to raise awareness of the dangers and consequences of using your mobile phone while driving.

The hope is that the campaign will help to create a negative stigma towards driving while using a mobile phone, similar to that the public have for drink and drug driving.

Devon and Cornwall Police and Crime Commissioner, Alison Hernandez, says people need to listen or face the consequences.

She added: “I fully support this new initiative by Devon and Cornwall Police. Using your phone whilst driving is dangerous – to you and to others. The evidence is clear and the message is simple. Don’t do it.

“The police can and will take action but people must take responsibility for their own actions.

"What we need is a step change in public acceptance of using a mobile device whilst driving.

"Nobody accepts that driving whilst under the influence of alcohol is acceptable but too many people still think that it is acceptable to use a mobile phone in their car.”

The government has said that drivers caught using handheld mobile phones are likely to face much tougher penalties in the future. New rules, expected in 2017, will see fines and points doubling.

Chief Constable for Gloucestershire and the National Police lead for Road’s Policing, Suzette Davenport, said: “It’s obvious that someone’s driving ability is impaired by using a mobile phone.

"What people often don’t realise is that studies have found that talking on a hand-held mobile phone can impair driving as much as getting behind the wheel when you’re above the drink drive limit.

“It is quite simple, people can’t do both and I’m hoping that the message will finally start to sink in. Using a mobile when driving should be as unacceptable as drink driving.”

Alongside the campaign, police across the South West will be carrying out a series of proactive operations to catch those using their phones behind the wheel.

Inspector Pete Thomas added: “This week, officers will be out and about across the two counties, stopping people who are using their mobiles whilst driving.

“We will be explaining to them the dangers of this and prosecuting where appropriate.”