Richard Harris reports on the poor safety record of the busy A64 which links York to Leeds and Scarborough.

EIGHT dead in 12 months.

That is the toll the A64 has taken on people travelling along it and living alongside it in the space of one year.

In addition, there have been about half a dozen accidents causing serious injuries, countless minor accidents, tens of thousands of pounds in insurance claims and hours of delays for motorists who rely on the busy road to travel to the towns, cities and villages along it.

In contrast, provisional figures from North Yorkshire County Council and information from City of York Council show that from 1 January 1, 2006, until January 5, 2007 61 people, not including the A64 deaths, were killed across the whole of the county - an area encompassing about 6,000 miles of roads.

So why is this 70-mile stretch of road which links York with Leeds and Scarborough so dangerous? It is obviously busy, being used by up to 25,000 cars a day, but then so are motorways which are statistically the safest roads to travel on.

Undoubtedly, one problem is speed, but Edmund King, executive director of the RAC Foundation, believes there is a more fundamental issue - basic driving skills.

He said: "If you look closely at accident causation factors you get basic things like failing to look. That is the reason for about 30 per cent of crashes. That is drivers who are not concentrating on the road ahead - they are reaching for the radio or looking at what the kids are doing in the back seat. Therefore they make errors.

"And on a road like the A64 if one car gets into an accident there is a likelihood others will be involved."

The common belief that older drivers are safer than the young is also a misconception.

There is a "silent majority" of middle-aged drivers who tailgate and fail to concentrate. The problem is exacerbated by the fact cars are becoming more comfortable.

Mr King said: "I think some drivers slip out of their lounge and treat driving like they are watching TV."

Another significant factor affecting safety is the fact the A64 changes from a single carriageway to a dual carriageway three times along its length.

Mr King said this encouraged tailgating as drivers were keen to overtake the car in front before the next section of single carriageway began. There were also some drivers who did not understand lane discipline, frustrating other motorists by driving along in the outside lane rather than just using it for its purpose - overtaking.

But the Government has ruled out turning the A64 into a dual carriageway before at least 2016.

The cost would be £500 million but Mr King said this would be a drop in the ocean compared with what motorists contributed to the Treasury.

He said: "There's no shadow of a doubt. We think dualling the A64 would improve the accident record, cut congestion and cut pollution. In terms of the cost we are putting a lot of money into the Exchequer - £34 billion, of which only £6 billion goes into the road programme."

But money has already been spent on improving the A64 in terms of safety.

The seven gaps near Tadcaster were closed last year following a major campaign by The Press which began in the late-1990s. It had emerged that about one quarter of all accidents on the road happened at or near the gaps - in many cases involving drivers doing U-turns.

In November, the Highways Agency announced plans to create a crossing point for pedestrians at the Aagrah restaurant between York and Tadcaster.

It remains to be seen whether these measures will significantly affect the number of deaths on the A64.

RICHARD HARRIS asked motorists if they thought the A64 was dangerous

David Cox, 57, of Wigginton, said : "I think it would be nice if it was three lanes, but I don't think it's dangerous. The way people use the road, that causes the problem - excessive speed and trying to cross it where they should not."

Zoe Browne, 33, of Welburn, said: "In general, I think it's disgusting. In summertime from 4pm the traffic is stationary for three hours, it's just the sheer volume of traffic.

Taxi driver John Debnam, 46, of York, said: "The A64 from York to Scarborough is good, they have made a lot of improvements, but there are stretches going towards Scarborough where it's quite dangerous."

Shirley Haslam, 72, of Easingwold, said: "The stretch around Whitwell Hill is bad. particularly if motorists are trying to cross the A64. It's very difficult getting out but that's just because it's excessively busy. I think it is quite a dangerous road."

Catalogue of A64 crashes

* January 29: An elderly couple sustain serious injuries when their vehicle collides with another and overturns near Bramham Cross.

* February 28: A four-car pile-up between York and Tadcaster closes the A64 for three hours.

* March 7: A man escapes with minor injuries after a lorry ploughs into the back of his car mangling it beyond recognition.

* July 15: A backseat passenger is killed when the car in which she is travelling crashes into a telegraph pole near Bilbrough.

* July 23: A woman cyclist is killed trying to cross the A64 near Flaxton * July 31: Two young women have a lucky escape when their car overturns and lands on its roof in a field behind Merton Grange.

* August 5: A motorcyclist sustains serious injuries after colliding with a car just north of Towthorpe Moor Lane. The road is closed for four hours.

* September 9: Twelve people are injured in a four-car pile-up near East Heslerton.

* September 20: A man travelling to work is killed when his three-wheeled motorbike collides with a lorry between Hopgrove roundabout and Grimston Bar * September 21: An elderly woman is killed in a four-car smash near Staxton.

* September 23: A teenager is killed and his girlfriend seriously injured when the car he is driving careers off the road near the Fulford interchange.

* September 29: A motorist suffers head and chest injuries and has to be cut out of his car when it rolls on to its side near Malton.

* October 20: A five-car smash near York during rush-hour leaves nine people injured and causes traffic chaos for hundreds of motorists.

* October 31: Motorists are stuck in a ten-mile traffic jam after a crash involving five vehicles near the Tadcaster junction.

* November 27: A teenage driver suffers serious head injuries and is described as being "lucky to be alive" after a crash with another car at Ganton.

* December 8: A pedestrian is killed when she tries to cross the A64 between York and Tadcaster.

* January 5: An elderly woman is killed trying to cross the road at Whitwell Hill, near Malton.