Nationwide traffic deaths fell below 4,000 last year for the first time in 67 years, due partly to improved vehicle safety, the National Police Agency said Wednesday.
In 2016, the number of people who died in traffic accidents dropped by 213, or 5.2 percent, from a year earlier to 3,904. The figure was the third-lowest since 1948, the first year for which comparable data became available. It was last below 4,000 in 1949.
The 2016 figure was less than a quarter of the record 16,765 logged in 1970, according to the agency.
An agency official attributed the decline to traffic safety education; improved vehicle performance, like automatic brakes; and better road conditions, such as more intersections with clearer lines of sight and easier-to-see traffic lights.
The number of fatalities among those aged 65 or older stood at 2,138, accounting for 54.8 percent of the total deaths, the highest rate since a comparable survey began in 1967, according to preliminary data.
The number of fatal traffic accidents related to drunken driving rose 6 percent to 213.
Among the 47 prefectures, Aichi Prefecture had the largest number of traffic deaths with 212, followed by Chiba Prefecture with 185 and Osaka Prefecture with 161. Tottori Prefecture had the fewest at 17.
Fukui Prefecture and Tokushima Prefecture both had 6.48 deaths per 100,000 persons, the highest rate in the nation. Tokyo had the lowest at 1.18.
The government is aiming to reduce annual road fatalities to 2,500 or under by 2020 under a traffic safety plan launched in the current fiscal year.