The number of motorists in England using hand-held mobiles while driving has increased by 27% between September 2008 and November 2009, according to Department for Transport (DfT) statistics.

While the figure was 1.1% of all of England’s motorists in the September 2008 survey, it has jumped to 1.4% in the 2009 survey.

For van and lorry drivers, the figure has risen from 2.2% in 2008 to 2.6% in 2009 – a leap of 18%, says the survey carried out at 30 sites in the South East of England.

According to research by UK’s independent safety organisation RAC Foundation, texting while driving increases reaction times by 33% and reduces the drivers ability to react to events on the road.

Commenting on the DfT’s findings, RAC Foundation director professor Stephen Glaister said this is very worrying as the figure has gone up despite it being illegal since December 2003 to use hand-held phone at the wheel.

“It seems a small, but growing, minority of drivers choose to flout the law. Yet their actions can have tragic consequences,” Glaister said.

“Police must be given the resources to tackle this menace and drivers persuaded that what they are doing is potentially lethal.”