Stricter rules on using a mobile phone while driving have come into force as of today (March 25).

The Department for Transport said it was strengthening existing laws to improve road safety and has banned the use of handheld mobile phones under almost any circumstance while driving.

Here is everything you need to know about the new rules.

What mobile phone rules are changing?

There was an existing loophole which allowed drivers to escape punishment for handheld phone use if they were taking a photo or playing a game.

But the Department for Transport tightened the legislation to stop drivers from using their phones while driving in almost all circumstances.

Previously, the law only applied to "interactive communication" such as making a call, as it was written before mobile phones could be used for videos.

What counts as using your phone while driving?

New laws now mean making phone calls and texting are not the only functions banned when behind the wheel.

Taking photos or videos, scrolling through playlists and playing games will also be prohibited.

What is the penalty?

Anyone caught using their handheld device while driving could face a fine of up to £1,000 as well as six points on their licence.

Why is this happening?

Department for Transport figures show 17 people were killed and a further 114 were seriously injured in crashes on Britain’s roads in which a driver using a mobile phone was a contributory factor.

Are there any exceptions?

Drivers will still be allowed to use their phones to make contactless payments, such as at drive-thru restaurants, as long as their vehicle is stationary.

They can also use their device as a sat-nav if it is secured in a cradle.

Exmouth Journal: Tougher rules on using a mobile phone while driving come into force from March 25.Tougher rules on using a mobile phone while driving come into force from March 25. (Image: PA)

What has the government said?

Transport secretary Grant Shapps described the new rules as a "zero-tolerance" approach to the use of all handheld mobile phones while driving.

Mr Shapps said: “I will do everything in my power to keep road users safe, which is why I am taking a zero-tolerance approach to those who decide to risk lives by using their phone behind the wheel.

“I’m ensuring anyone who chooses to break this vital law can face punishment for doing so, and we’ll continue our efforts to ensure our roads remain among the safest in the world.”

What do drivers think of the changes?

A recent RAC survey of 2,000 UK drivers found that 43pc of motorists are not aware of the changes being introduced, while 45pc believe they will not be effective.

RAC spokesperson Rod Dennis said: “The dial really needs to be turned up when it comes to enforcement, and that means police forces having the resources and technology they need to more easily catch those drivers that continue to flout the law.

“Cameras that can automatically detect handheld phone use exist and are in use in other countries, so we think it’s high time the UK government evaluated this technology with a view to allowing police forces to deploy it at the earliest opportunity.”