SCOTLAND has been found to have the highest levels of distracted driving offences in the UK, while moves are being made to ban the use of hands-free mobile phones in cars.

The transport select committee has said using any type of mobile phone while driving had potentially catastrophic consequences and warned that current laws give the "misleading impression" that hands-free options are safe.

And the MPs called for more severe penalties “commensurate with the risks”, as road deaths linked to phone use have risen steadily over the past decade.

A public consultation on the proposal should be published by the end of 2019, the cross-party group said.

It is understood the Scottish Government would support a ban on hands-free mobile phones from a road safety point of view as long as the proposal is backed with evidence and proper impact assessments.

It comes as it emerged research found that Scotland is a UK hotspot for distracted driving offences.

Court penalties doubled when tough mobile phone driving laws were introduced in March, 2017.

And research using freedom of legislation carried out for the motor dealers Peter Vardy revealed that in around nine months after the new legislation, there had been 8,747 recorded offences since March across 13 constabularies in the UK.

Scotland was said to have been the worst region, accounting for 2,220 of these.

A separate survey at around the same time to determine the places that are the worst offenders found that came top with nearly three in four admitting to using their phones behind the wheel. This was closely followed by London where 72% said they used their phones while driving, as did 59% of Glaswegians, 56% in Cardiff and 45% of Birmingham drivers.

The safest place for other drivers and pedestrians appears to be Southampton, where just one in twenty of drivers admitted to using their phones. While people in Bristol (13%), Manchester (21%) and Nottingham (25%) made up the four lowest cities for mobile phone use behind the wheel.

READ MORE: Lorry driver caught checking his phone before fatal crash jailed for five years

In September, last year, 34-year-old recovery driver David Shields who was caught on camera checking his phone prior to a fatal crash was jailed for five years.

HeraldScotland:

The driver crashed into 66-year-old Yvonne Blackman's car in a line of traffic on the A75 in Dumfries last February.

He had previously admitted a charge of causing the mother-of-four's death by dangerous driving.

Footage captured Shields, of Drongan, East Ayrshire, focusing on his phone for a full 18 seconds in the lead-up to the fatal crash.

Brake, the road safety charity said research showed using a hands-free phone can impair a driver in the same way as a hand-held device and so it makes sense that the law treats these acts equally.

A Brake spokesman said: “The number of distracted driving offences in Scotland is cause for concern and highlights that there is still much work to be done regarding the dangers of phone use behind the wheel.

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“We need urgent clarification of the law on using hand-held mobile devices while driving, including closing loopholes which treat sending or receiving data differently.

"The current law also provides a dangerous false impression that it is safe to use a mobile phone with a hands-free kit - it is not. All phone use behind the wheel is dangerous, and we need the law to reflect this by banning the use of hands-free devices.

"It is also true that a law is only as strong as its enforcement and so we want to see further resources provided to the police to make sure there is an effective deterrent to the menace of mobile phone use behind the wheel.”

A Scottish Government spokesman said: “While the power to legislate in this area is reserved to the UK Government, we are clear that road safety is a priority and we recognise that driving while distracted puts the driver and other road users at greater risk.

“We continue to support behavioural change and marketing campaigns through Road Safety Scotland. The message from us and all road safety partners is clear - do not risk your safety or the safety of others by using a mobile phone behind the wheel of a car.”