The number of deaths in traffic accidents across Japan in 2023 increased by 68 from the previous year to 2,678, the first rise in eight years, National Police Agency data showed Thursday.

That was still the third-lowest death toll on record, with data dating back to 1948.

The agency suspects the increase in social activities following the lifting of COVID-19 restrictions played a role in the rise. It said that details will be analyzed later.

Osaka Prefecture had the highest number of deaths among the country's 47 prefectures for the second straight year, at 148.

It was followed by Aichi Prefecture at 145 and Tokyo at 136. Saga Prefecture had the lowest figure at 13.

The preliminary tally of traffic accidents came to 307,911, while that of people injured in the accidents stood at 365,027. The figures rose by 7,072 and 8,426, respectively.

There were seven accidents resulting in deaths of three or more people. Those crashes occurred in the prefectures of Hokkaido, Miyagi, Yamagata, Fukushima, Gunma and Mie.

The total jumped from three in 2022 and two in 2021.

There was a noticeable increase in the number of head-on collisions, the NPA said.

The number of annual traffic accident deaths peaked at 16,765 in 1970. Japan had marked seven straight years of decline through 2022 and logged a record low every year from 2017.

The government aims to reduce the annual death toll to below 2,000 by 2025.

"It's a difficult situation, but we will cooperate with relevant organizations to achieve the target," an NPA official said.