Anti-traffic Bill gets amber light

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The Government has backed down over its resistance to a law which would compel local councils to plan cuts in road traffic.

Anti-road protesters showed their support for the Road Traffic Reduction Bill in London yesterday by briefly blocking the road outside Parliament.

The Bill reaches a crucial stage tomorrow with its Second Reading in the Commons. Its backers, including more than 100 councils and 220 MPs, believe the Government's change of heart has given their Bill with a real chance of becoming law.

The legislation would oblige councils to set targets for cutting traffic levels, or cutting the projected growth in the number of car and lorry journeys. The targets, and the plans to implement them, would have to be drawn up within a year of the Bill becoming law, and they would cover the years 2005 and 2010.

The Private Member's Bill, introduced by Liberal Democrat MP Don Foster, has its vital Second Reading in the Commons tomorrow. Backers say that if it survives it has a reasonable chance of getting through the Commons stages and the Lords before the general election is called and Parliament dissolved.

The Government has indicated that it will not oppose the Bill, following negotiations with Mr Foster in which he made substantial concessions. In its original version it would have compelled the Secretary of State for Transport to set national targets, something his department could not countenance.

The Bill has backing from the Green Party, Plaid Cymru and Friends of the Earth. Ron Bailey, the veteran Green Party campaigner who wrote it, said: "It's not what we originally intended, but its a vital step which puts traffic reduction on the legislative agenda for the first time."

Councils would be expected to hit their targets by improving facilities for pedestrians and cyclists, boosting public transport and refusing planning permission for developments which make people more reliant on cars - out- of-town shopping centres and leisure complexes, for example.

Cars will soon come with infra-red night vision systems able to pick out people and objects that drivers otherwise might not see, following research by Jaguar.

The new systems would use cameras sensitive to infrared radiation emitted from the front of the car. The enhanced image of the road and obstacles ahead, consisting of heat reflected from otherwise invisible objects, would then be projected in visible light onto the windscreen.

"Technically, we are really quite close to this," said Paul Mulvanny, principal technical specialist at Jaguar Engineering in Whitley. His division has already built and tested prototype systems and he reckons that working versions could be incorporated into cars by 2000.

"This could double the pedestrian detection range for the average driver, and quadruple it for older drivers," he said. Research has found that drivers try to avoid night journeys as they get older, partly because natural eye deterioration causes problems watching the road, especially with oncoming headlights. In such circumstances, drivers are often unable to see properly because they are temporarily blinded.