A GOVERNMENT minister has pledged that roads bosses will examine how to boost safety on the A64 in the wake of a series of tragic smashes.

Gillian Merron, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Transport, said when she visited York yesterday that Highways Agency officers were looking at the problem.

She said: "I am very aware of the safety angle and the Highways Agency is looking at how the safety issues can be resolved. I am alive to the issues on the A64."

The Press revealed earlier this month that eight people were killed in just a year on the 70-mile stretch of road that links York with Scarborough and Leeds.

Ms Merron was in York to promote the city's car club, which was launched last month.

Her visit comes amid continued calls by councillors and MPs to turn the entire A64 into a dual carriageway.

Last year, a £500 million scheme to widen the road between York and Scarborough dropped off the list of Government priority projects for the next decade, meaning it is unlikely to happen before 2016.

Ms Merron said the decision could be revisited but was in the hands of the Regional Transport Board (RTB), which draws up the list of Yorkshire-wide road projects.

"The priorities are set regionally which I think is the right thing," she said.

"Regions relate to us about where money should be spent.

"On the A64, I understand the region did not make it a priority. Of course, they can revisit it and those debates and discussions will continue."

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

That followed the closure last year of seven gaps between lanes of the dual carriageway near Tadcaster after a major campaign by The Press.

It had emerged that about a quarter of all smashes on the trunk road happened at or near the gaps and in many cases involved drivers carrying out U-turns.

Ms Merron also said road pricing - charging to use the busiest roads - would soon be an option for cities including York to reduce congestion.

She said: "We hope that within four or five years there would be local authorities that would wish to try it because what we are very keen to do is build on local experience.

Ms Merron added: "It is about local solutions for local needs because what works in York is not necessarily going to work elsewhere."

Deaths on roads in North Yorkshire fall by 20pc

DEATHS on North Yorkshire's roads have been slashed by 20 per cent.

The decrease in fatalities on the county's roads includes a 38 per cent fall in motorcyclist deaths.

Road Policing Inspector Chris Charlton, of North Yorkshire Police, said: "This is a big step in the right direction, but the job is by no means done.

"We are still finalising and analysing the figures, but it is already emerging that young drivers and passengers make up a disproportionate number of those killed. It is clear that the efforts of the police and all the other agencies involved in road safety must continue to focus on these road-users."

The biggest drop in fatalities is among motorcycle riders. The Press told yesterday how 13 died last year, compared with 21 in 2005.

Insp Charlton attributes the success to North Yorkshire Police's unique mixture of training, persuasion - and hard-line enforcement.

Two teenagers, one on a moped, the other riding a relatively small 125cc machine, were killed in 2006. All the other riders killed were adults.

Fatalities on the county's 6,000 miles of roads fell from 85 in 2005 to 68 last year.