Shocking research released today by the Transport Research Laboratory revealed that driving while using a mobile phone is more dangerous than being drunk at the wheel.

Tests carried out by the Transport Research Laboratory, in association with Direct Line insurance, showed that driving skills are impaired more by using a mobile phone than by being over the legal alcohol limit and, contrary to popular belief, even drivers using hands-fee kits lost concentration.

On average, drivers' reaction times were 30 percent slower when talking on a mobile phone than when drunk, and 50 percent slower than normal driving.

"Most people accept that talking on a mobile phone while driving is distracting, however many drivers don't appreciate how dangerous it is," said Dominic Burch, Direct Line's road safety campaign manager.

On Wednesday this week the Republic of Ireland banned the use of handheld mobile phones while driving.

"Many countries in Europe and around the world have introduced a ban in the interest of road safety, and we hope the UK follows Ireland's example very soon," said Kevin Clinton, head of road safety at Rospa (the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents).

Although using a mobile while driving is not illegal in the UK, drivers can be prosecuted for dangerous driving, which carries a ban and a maximum penalty fine of £2,500.

But as other mobile devices, such as PDAs and laptops, become more popular, there is an increasing risk that people will also use these while driving.

"We have stopped a few drivers who have not been in control of their car and discovered they are typing an email on their laptop," said a spokesman for the Metropolitan Police. "But thankfully most drivers have more sense."

The Department of Health said it had not recorded any such cases but "would not put it past some people" to try to do this while driving.

Janet Anderson, MP for Rossendale, is currently pushing a bill through parliament to ban the use of handheld mobiles while driving, which receives its second reading on 12 April. If it is successful, then it may also need to be written to take into consideration all mobile devices.

The study involved 20 drivers using a simulator which reproduced different conditions.