MORE than $168 million was paid out to traffic accident victims or their dependents in the 1998-99 financial year. The Social Welfare Department's Traffic Accident Victims Assistance Fund received 6,428 applications during the period, compared with 6,246 in the previous year, an increase of 2.9 per cent. The total amount of money paid out the previous year was not available yesterday. Despite the rise in applications, police figures reveal a decrease of 6.3 per cent in the number of traffic casualties, from 19,822 in 1997-98 to 18,571 in 1998-99. 'The increase in applications indicates that more people are aware of their right to apply,' a department spokesman said. The largest individual payout of the year was $141,536 granted to the four surviving family members of a cyclist who was knocked down by a car and died on August 1, 1998. The department handled cases relating to 90 serious road accidents involving heavy casualties during the period. The accident resulting in the largest number of victims occurred on February 2, 1999, when a bus collided with three trucks at Lung Mun Road, Tuen Mun. Twenty-nine people were injured. The department said the compensation fund was designed to provide speedy financial assistance to victims or their dependents. Applications for assistance should be filed within six months of the traffic accident, which must have been reported to the police. 'In major traffic accidents, staff from the Traffic Accident Victims Assistance Section would take the initiative to contact victims or their dependents immediately to help them apply at an early date,' the spokesman said.