Drivers caught using their mobile phone behind the wheel will now be hit with six points on their licence and a £200 fine.
The Department for Transport has been planning a crackdown on the offence for some time now, and previously suggested that a four-point and £150 penalty would deter drivers.
The new penalties are double the previous ones, and the introduction of the tougher legislation comes just days after an RAC survey found a considerable rise in mobile phone use behind the wheel.
Transport secretary Chris Grayling said: “we need to take responsibility for our actions and as drink or drug driving has become socially unacceptable, so must using mobile phones at the wheel.
“It may seem harmless when you are replying to a text, answering a call or using an app, but the truth is your actions could kill and cause untold misery to others.”
In 2014 and 2015, the DfT found that the use of a mobile phone behind the wheel contributed to 43 fatal accidents in 2014 and 2015. The government is also introducing a high-profile Think! campaign to accompany the higher penalties, to raise awareness around the new penalties, and the dangers of committing the offence.
The transport secretary also said that he aims to make using a phone at the wheel “socially unacceptable, like drink driving or not wearing a seatbelt.”
The road safety spokesman for the RAC, Pete Williams, said: “The Government’s swift action to the findings in the RAC Report on Motoring shows they understand just how dangerous it can be to use a handheld mobile phone at the wheel. However, it is just as important that laws are seen to be enforced, and the decline in the numbers of dedicated road traffic police has only heightened the feeling that those who use a handheld phone while driving simply get away with it."
"We hope we will see an immediate change in driver behaviour and an end to anyone using a handheld mobile phone while driving."
The tougher penalties will come into play in the first half of 2017.