Police forces in Surrey, Sussex and Hampshire are cracking down on drivers who use a mobile phone while driving.

Traffic officers from all three forces have been out stopping drivers caught using their phones, issuing penalties, as well as educating motorists about the dangers of distraction.

They are supporting a national campaign to highlight tougher penalties due to become law.

The ‘It Can Wait’ campaign is urging drivers to place their phone out of reach or set it to silent before setting off on a journey in a bid to take away any temptation to use it when behind the wheel.

Officers have been targeting irresponsible and dangerous drivers who are spotted making calls, texting and recording videos or surfing the web.

The new law will see the fixed penalty fine double from £100 to £200, and the penalty points for the offence increase from three to six points. The legislative changes come into effect from March 1, and mean a new driver could lose their licence if they are caught just once while using their phone.

Superintendent Chris Moon, head of Surrey and Sussex roads policing unit said: “The message not to use a hand-held mobile is still not getting through despite it being 14 years since it was made illegal.

“There’s been an alarming rise in the number of people using mobiles when they shouldn’t – the national campaign in May 2016 recorded the highest percentage rate of drivers caught using a mobile phone while driving compared to any other previous campaigns.

“This addiction to using a hand-held mobile phone needs to be broken and putting the phone on silent or out of reach when driving can put a stop to the habit.

“Motorists are putting themselves and those around them at huge risk – using a mobile while driving can cause death or serious injury.”

Father of two, 48-year-old, Lee Martin from Basingstoke, was killed when he was hit by a Ford Transit van as he cycled along the A31, near Farnham, in August 2015. The van driver was sending and reading text messages when the crash happened.

Christopher Gard, 30, from Alton, was sentenced to nine years for causing death by dangerous driving.

He recently lost an appeal to cut the length of his sentence. Gard had seven previous convictions for using a phone at the wheel and his appeal was dismissed by a judge who said: “most rational people would have modified their behaviour for their own sake or for their potential victims”.

Supt Moon said: “This tragic incident could have been averted if the driver had carried out what he had promised to do when he was in court just weeks before the accident.

“Gard had told the court he would lock his phone in the boot of his van when driving – he managed to persuade magistrates he could curb his behaviour.

“I want motorists to think about this shocking and avoidable fatal accident when they reach to use their mobile. Is any call, text or picture worth someone’s life?

“Help yourself to avoid any temptation, turn the sound off and place your phone safely out of arm’s reach. Remember #It Can Wait.”

He added: “There needs to be a sea-change in how the driving community currently views and accepts the illegal use of mobile phones.

“The behaviour needs to be seen as socially unacceptable in the same way in which drink or drug-driving and the non-wearing of seat belts is viewed by the majority of the population.”

The message was backed up by Hampshire Police’s Road Safety Sergeant Rob Heard, who said: “A moment’s inattention can be the difference between life and death.

“Research has shown talking on a mobile phone can impair your ability to drive more than if you were driving while over the drink drive limit.

“You are much less aware of what’s happening around you and fail to see road signs, maintain a proper lane position or a steady speed.

“Drivers end up feeling more stressed and frustrated and are more likely to ‘tailgate’ the vehicle in front or enter unsafe gaps in traffic.

“You are four times more likely to be involved in a collision while using a mobile phone or being distracted in a vehicle and your reactions are 50 per cent slower.”

Sgt Heard added: “We have all seen the devastation caused by those who take the risks. Please think twice before answering a call, looking at a text or browsing your phone, let’s have no more innocent people lose their life.

“My advice is to turn your phone off while driving, put it out of reach, and out of view. This way you won’t be tempted to look at it and become distracted.

“It’s not worth the risk.”