Mobile phones may have been the cause of at least 16 fatal road accidents in the UK, according to research conducted by Rospa (the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents). But despite this, the UK is still lagging behind the US in enforcing legislation to ban mobile phones while driving.

In New York, legislation banning driving while dialling was passed in June with other states expected to follow its lead, but there is no similar legislation in the UK.

Following the imprisonment in the UK of Paul Hammond, a lorry driver who crashed while sending a text message earlier this year, Rospa has been lobbying the government to make the use of mobile phones on the road illegal, but as yet no action has been taken.

"We believe hundreds of accidents may be caused by the use of mobiles, but they are going unrecorded," said Kevin Clinton, Rospa's head of road safety. "As there is no specific offence relating to mobile phones and driving, it is impossible to keep track of how often they are a major factor in accidents."

Current legislation, found in the Highway Code sections 127 & 128, demands drivers be in proper control of their vehicles at all times. If a police officer believes using a mobile hampered this control then drivers can be prosecuted.

"A specific offence relating to mobiles would make it crystal clear to drivers that they should switch off their mobile before starting the engine," said Clinton.

But there seems to be considerable confusion over which body is responsible for compiling statistics on this area. The Department of Transport, the Department of Trade and Industry and the Association of Chief Police Officers all claim it is not their responsibility.

Rospa conducted a study with Aston University back in 1998 examining the effects of using a mobile phone on drivers. The results showed that drivers' speeds varied significantly when using a phone, responsiveness to serious conditions was affected and drivers were less responsive after a call than before one.

The Society dismisses claims that hands-free kits are safer for drivers to use.

"It is the distraction of the conversation rather than the mechanics of using the phone that poses the real problem," said Rospa road safety adviser Dave Rogers.

The Society's message is clear - switch off your mobile before you switch on your engine.