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French reduce hassles of `getting there'

Getting there could be half the fun for the 30 million travelers on France's hectic highways this summer -- thanks to roadside computers that can pinpoint traffic jams and help find a hotel. A new service has been launched by the Ministry of Transport to help tourists on the road. It coincides with the start of the summer exodus from French cities on the last weekend in June and will provide information for tourists at the touch of a button.

``People shouldn't feel trapped on the road, they shouldn't feel that it's a unknown quantity,'' a Transport Ministry official said at a news conference called to launch the project.

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Travelers can now use computers to plan out their routes, find out how much road tolls cost, track down where and when traffic jams are likely to develop and pick hotels and restaurants.

The novel service is based on the popular telephone-based Minitel computer, which provides travel planning tips, and a television ``magazine'' giving hourly updated traffic and road conditions on brightly colored graphs and diagrams.

The Minitel terminals also include a drinking and driving test in which travelers put in vital statistics and amount of alcohol consumed and are told by the computer when it will be safe for them to drive again.

Initially available at more than 100 roadside information centers around the country, the system will soon be available in travelers' homes through cable television and Minitels plugged into normal telephones.

The project also hopes to increase road safety. The current average of 225 highway deaths per one million inhabitants every year gives the French an unenviably high record of highway accidents.

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