The Department for Transport is consulting on updating laws so that phone calls and texting are not the only functions banned when behind the wheel.
Currently, the law forbids using a mobile phone for "interactive communication" while driving. This includes making a phone call, receiving a phone call, or sending a text or email. It's also illegal to access social media sites or streaming services.
The proposed change would mean that drivers could not pick up the mobile to perform a number of functions, such as rejecting a call, composing messages to save in drafts, unlocking the device, or checking the time or any notifications. In addition, taking photos or videos, using the camera as a mirror, searching for music, dictating voice memos and playing a game would also be against the law under the changes.
Roads Minister Baroness Vere said: "Our roads are some of the safest in the world, but we want to make sure they're safer still by bringing the law into the 21st century. That's why we're looking to strengthen the law to make using a hand-held phone while driving illegal in a wider range of circumstances.
"It's distracting and dangerous, and for too long risky drivers have been able to escape punishment, but this update will mean those doing the wrong thing will face the full force of the law."
An exemption is planned to allow mobile phones to be used for contactless payments, as long as the vehicle is stationary and the goods or services are delivered immediately, such as in a drive-thru takeaway. Ministers rejected calls to ban the use of hands-free functions, meaning that using software such as sat-nav with the phone secured in a cradle would still be permitted.
Figures released in March revealed that 385 drivers were caught using their phone while behind the wheel in Peterborough and Cambridgeshire last year – an average of one every day.
Chief Inspector Jon Roche, head of road policing for Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire and Hertfordshire, said: "Using a handheld device while driving means taking your concentration and your eyes off the road. That's incredibly dangerous and puts you and other road users at significant risk. Our message is don't do it. Wait until you reach your destination or make sure you park safely first."
The change in law would apply across Britain and is expected to come into effect early next year, pending the outcome of the consultation.