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Italy changing rules of roads in 2003

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ROME (Reuters) — Under a new traffic code approved in Italy Friday, motorists will be able to zoom along at up to 93 mph but could lose their licenses if caught gabbing on the mobile telephone while driving.

The code, to take effect in January 2003, eliminates the so-called "lane of shame" for slow-going vehicles and raises the speed limit on a few three-lane highways to 93 mph from 81 mph.

While still trailing Germany, where there is no speed limit on some parts of the autobahn highway network, Italy's traffic code has sparked protests from environmentalists and consumer groups worried about accidents and carelessness.

"It will end up legitimizing and encouraging high speed driving, probably above the new limit," one consumer group told ANSA news agency after the code was approved at a Cabinet meeting.

Under the code's new "points" system, drivers can lose their licenses after a certain number of infractions, including talking on a cellular phone while at the wheel.

Motorists can order customized license plates and get discounts for buying cars fueled by natural gas but will also have to obtain driving licenses for scooters.