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Traffic fatalities dropped by 11.7 percent in 2003 (to 466 people as of December 13), compared to 2002, when 528 people were killed on the roads. But the number of seriously injured - 2,467 - represents only a 4 percent drop from 2002 to 2003, Police Traffic Branch Commander Yaakov Raz told the Or Yarok (Green Light) conference on road safety in Tel Aviv on Thursday.

Raz said hit-and-run accidents had become a "plague" in the country and a special investigation team is put together now for each hit-and-run accident reported. Some 80 percent of the hit-and-run accidents that occurred in 2003 have been solved, with the driver apprehended.

According to Professor David Shinar of Ben Gurion University of the Negev, the reason for the decline in fatalities "is not clear" - because the police don't invest enough in research. Of the NIS 160 million allocated to the Road Safety Authority, which ostensibly is meant to coordinate efforts to reduce car accidents, only NIS 1 million was invested in research about why accidents happen and how to reduce them. He did praise the link between the authority and the Central Bureau of Statistics this year, saying the situation had improved, but hardly enough.

Benzion Salman, director general of the Transportation Ministry, said the ministry would be concentrating on accidents involving pedestrians in 2004. Pedestrian accidents are about a third of all the fatal accidents every year, he said. The program includes a requirement that any new transportation projects in local authorities include elements for pedestrian safety.

Green Light chairman Avi Naor said the overall goal should be cutting the accident rate in half and that a plan should be drawn up in the next three months "so this achievable target can be reached during 2004."