There were 8,326 deaths resulting from traffic accidents last year, roughly half the total in 1970, when such deaths reached their peak, the government reported Tuesday.

According to the fiscal 2002 government white paper on traffic safety, the number of traffic accidents and injuries last year were down for the first time in 12 years. The government put the number of traffic accidents in 2002 at 936,721 and the number of injuries at 1.17 million.

The white paper attributed the overall decline in traffic accidents to the effect of a tougher road traffic law that went into effect last June as well as an increase in use of seat belts.

For the 10th consecutive year, people aged 66 and older accounted for the largest number of traffic-related deaths; they were followed by people in the 16-to-24 age group.

Nearly four out of 10 people killed in traffic accidents last year, or 3,144, were age 61 and over, while 1,316 were in the 16-to-24 age group. Together, the two groups accounted for 53.6 percent of the total.

The white paper makes a specific reference to an incident in February when a train driver suffering serious sleep apnea fell asleep while at the controls of a bullet train traveling 270 kph.

The paper urges air, sea and land transport operators to sharpen their awareness of sleep apnea and promptly send pilots, ship captains and vehicle operators for treatment if they are diagnosed with the syndrome.

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