A CAMPAIGN has been launched to cut the carnage on a New Forest road with one of the worst accident rates in the area.

Villagers are demanding improvements to the A338 Ringwood to Fordingbridge road, where 17 people have been killed or seriously injured in the past six years.

The campaign is being led by teacher Val Ditchburn, of North Gorley, who has raised a petition calling on highway chiefs to take action.

Many of the people who have died on the A338 were in their late teens or early 20s.

The latest victim was Debbie Merritt, 20, of Bournemouth, who was killed two months ago when a Saxo driven by her boyfriend was involved in a four-car crash south of Fordingbridge.

Mrs Ditchburn said: "Teaching is my life and I care about young people.

"The unnecessary loss of life on the A338 needs to be halted. I'd like to see a range of improvements, including more signs and

better white-lining."

Her campaign has the support of Gordon and Jan Holley, whose daughter Emma, 18, was killed near her Downton home in February 2000.

Mr Holley, of Ringwood, said: "The A338 is probably one of the worst roads in the Hampshire-Dorset area.

"It's basically a country road in disguise, despite linking two large and important towns. Part of the A338 is reasonably straight and wide, but then it starts to meander and drivers seem to have trouble adjusting.

"I absolutely hate using the road. Whenever we venture on to it we are always very careful."

Mrs Ditchburn's campaign also has the backing of local police. Sgt Tim Adams, based at Fordingbridge, said: "Anything we can do to reduce the carnage on that road is a good thing."

Speakers at a public meeting at Hyde demanded a number of improvements, including static speed cameras, slip-roads and a ban on right turns.

A county council spokesman said the authority had no plans to carry out any further work, but stressed that police were using mobile safety cameras to encourage motorists to cut their speed.

District councillor Bill Dow said: "Sadly, it's often drivers who are the problem.

"It doesn't matter how much you straighten bends or improve junctions. You will always have accidents because some people don't drive according to the conditions."