Traffic warning system extended: In-car unit covers 1,000 miles of motorway

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MOTORISTS in the South-east and Midlands will be able to get instant information to help them avoid motorway traffic jams following the extension of a system previously available only around London.

The Trafficmaster system has been available since 1990 on the M25 and yesterday it was extended to cover about 1,000 miles of motorways and linking A roads.

Trafficmaster works through a network of nearly 800 sensors hung from motorway bridges which monitor the speed of cars. If the average traffic speed falls below 30mph it sends a message to a central control computer which relays it to users.

Cars are fitted with a small screen showing a map of the motorway network. The system allows users to zoom in to show where traffic is moving slowly. It also gives brief details of the cause of a hold-up.

John Abbott, the commercial director of General Logistics, which has developed the system, said at yesterday's presentation: 'You can usually reckon on five minutes delay if the speed goes down to 25mph and 25 minutes if if it goes down to 5mph. This allows motorists to make decisions in advance of their journeys.' There are plans to extend the system to the whole country by 1995.

John MacGregor, Secretary of State for Transport, who has one in his car, said of the system: 'When driver behaviour changes as a result of better information it helps to reduce congestion and the problems caused by traffic accidents, which in turn helps everybody.' However, ministry sources said there were no plans to introduce the system free for all drivers.

Currently it costs around pounds 290 to install, plus pounds 23 to link into the information system. There are currently 3,000 users, mainly in private cars, and the firm hopes another 5,000 will sign up over the next year.

Phil Llewellin test-drives the Trafficmaster in the Independent on Saturday.

(Photograph omitted)