Traffic accidents in Japan claimed 5,155 lives in 2008, down 589 from the previous year and marking the eighth straight year of decline. The number of annual traffic deaths is now about 30 percent of the record set in 1970 when 16,765 people died. This news is most welcome, but police, drivers and pedestrians must not let down their guard.

The period from Dec. 29 to Jan. 3 saw 89 traffic deaths, 10 more than the year before. It is still somewhat heartening that this figure was the second-lowest since fiscal 1970, when the first statistics for this period were taken. Traffic accidents caused by drunken driving numbered 72 in the latest Dec. 29-Jan. 3 period, less than half the 148 accidents in the same period the year before.

The number of annual traffic deaths for 2008 means that the government’s goal of holding down annual traffic deaths to 5,500 or less by 2010 was achieved two years earlier than originally envisaged. Of the nation’s 47 prefectures, 38 had fewer traffic deaths than in 2007. Hokkaido saw 58 fewer deaths, Tokyo 51 fewer deaths, and Osaka 50 fewer deaths. A total of 765,510 traffic accidents occurred in 2008 and 944,071 people were injured. For the first time since 1998, the number of traffic injuries fell under 1 million.

Harsher penalties for drunken driving and mandatory use of seat belts apparently contributed to the smaller death toll. But in October, in Osaka’s Kita Ward, a drunken driver struck and dragged a pedestrian for a distance, killing him. A similar incident took place in Tondabayashi, Osaka Prefecture, in November.

National Police Agency Director General Hiroto Yoshimura made a good point when he stated that although the number of traffic deaths have decreased, the fact that more than 5,000 people die in traffic accidents annually must be taken seriously. He added that his agency will continue to push measures to decrease the number of such deaths. The government cannot succeed alone, however; drivers must do their part by obeying traffic rules and using common sense.

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