A major new campaign is being launched today to end the traffic nightmare on country roads.

It calls for the introduction of ‘quiet lanes’ where walkers, cyclists and horse riders take priority over motorists.

The campaign by the Council for the Protection of Rural England (CPRE) has already won the support of the leader of Somerset county Council.

The CPRE says urgent action is needed to combat the growing menace of rising traffic levels on rural roads and narrow country lanes. They aim to designate areas of natural beauty, such as the Quantocks, Exmoor, the Mendips and Blackdown Hills, as quiet lane zones where cars take second place.

The proposals would see lorries being banned from certain routes and on village rat-runs. If pilot schemes are successful, more of the region’s country roads could be included.

The CPRE has published hard-hitting statistics which show that 65 per cent of people feel threatened by traffic on country lanes and 95 per cent want the speed limit cut.

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They say traffic levels are rising faster on rural roads than in urban areas, matched by a slower reduction in accident figures – in the last 15 years rural road fatalities have decreased at only half the rate in towns and cities.

Traffic in the countryside is already forecast to double in the next 30 years as more people migrate to the country, village amenities disappear prompting more car journeys and frustrated drivers and commuters steer clear of congested trunks roads and motorways.

The CPRE is calling on local authorities to take the lead and last night Somerset council leader Chris Clarke gave the campaign his backing.

Some councils are already setting up quiet lane pilot schemes. A number are proposed in Devon and others are outlined for the Pewsey Vale in Wiltshire county council’s local transport plan.

Only last month the Rural Labour Group of MPs called for a national network of quiet lanes to be set up.

Mr Clarke, Liberal Democrat member for Wells,said: “People are prepared for these kinds of initiatives and certainly within the county council’s highways department there’s a wish to get more consistency on speed limits and to look at 20mph zones around schools.

“There’s a significant chunk of motorists who make no allowance whatsoever for cyclists and pedestrians.

“We would like to show a lead in these matters.”

Paul Hamblin, the CPRE’s head of transport, said more councils needed to wake up to the looming threats to rural road safety. “For too long the needs of the motorist on country lanes have been paramount,” he said

“But quiet lanes recognise that minor rural roads should be able to be used by everybody, those on foot, bike and horse as well as in vehicles, without fear of intimidation from traffic.”

Last month the Government turned down calls to reduce the speed limit on country lanes from 60mph to 20mph but instead invited local authorities to take the initiative.

Somerset CPRE spokeswoman Christina Morgan said that was a blow to rural road safety, but insisted the quiet lane campaign was the best way forward.

“We have to start with obvious areas like the Quantocks or the Blackdown Hills. If Somerset started with these two areas it could then be gradually extended.”