Drivers caught using a handheld mobile phone will, from early next year, get six points on their licence and a £200 fine.
Under new rules, which will apply to England, Scotland and Wales, more experienced drivers caught breaking the rules twice could also be fined up to £1,000 and face at least a six-month driving ban.
Meanwhile, newly qualified drivers could be made to reapply for their provisional licence following a first offence.
“It may seem harmless when you are replying to a text, answering a call or using an app, but the truth is your actions could kill and cause untold misery to others,” Transport Secretary Chris Grayling said.
The penalties, which will increase from three penalty points and a £100 fine, are expected to be introduced in the first half of 2017 and will be accompanied by a high-profile government Think! campaign.