The number of deaths from traffic accidents in 2012 declined for the 12th year in a row to 4,411, down 4.4 percent from 2011 and falling below 4,500 for the first time since 1951, the National Police Agency announced Friday.

But the number of victims aged 65 or above rose to 2,264, accounting for 51.3 percent of the total fatalities, a record high since comparable data started to be compiled in 1966, the agency said.

The number of fatal accidents caused by drunken driving came to 252, the lowest level since 1990. An NPA official attributed the downtrend mainly to stiffer penalties for DUI convictions and a growing awareness about the dangers of taking the wheel when intoxicated.

By prefecture, Aichi posted the highest death toll from road accidents, at 235, followed by Hokkaido and Saitama at 200, the NPA reported. Tottori saw the fewest fatalities, at 30, followed by Tokushima at 32.

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