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The National Safety Council (NSC) recently reported that Americans are at a higher risk of dying from a motor vehicle crash than they were last year at this time, even though there are fewer people on the road because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

At the same time, the New York Police Department reports a growing number of car accidents involving outdoor dining areas, as restaurants move their dining areas into the streets to lower COVID-19 safety risks.

NSC Estimates Show Higher Death Rate Per Miles Driven in 2020

Because of the pandemic, the number of miles driven in the first five months of 2020 decreased by 17.3 percent compared to 2019. The number of miles driven in May 2020 alone decreased 25.5 percent compared to May 2019.

The good news is that the overall deaths also decreased to 13,890 for the first five months of 2020, down 6 percent compared to the first five months of 2019. Motor-vehicle deaths in May alone totaled 3,140, which was down 8 percent from May 2019.

At the same time, however, the monthly mileage death rates increased by 23.5 percent compared to May 2019. The mileage death rate per 100 million vehicle miles driven for May 2020 was 1.45, compared to 1.19 in 2019.

The Industrial Safety & Hygiene News (ISHN) notes that though the country “should be reaping a safety benefit from less traffic,” these estimates suggest the roads are actually riskier, “threatening to reverse traffic safety gains made over the last few years.”

In response to the data, the NSC developed new recommendations and guidance for providing safe routes to work and enhancing transportation safety on the job.

“As motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of workplace fatalities,” said Lorraine M. Martin, president and CEO of the NSC, “transportation safety should be integral to every organization.” The NSC also encouraged drivers to obey speed limits, practice defensive driving, avoid driving while fatigued, avoid distractions, be aware of increased pedestrian and bicycle traffic, and stay engaged with teen drivers’ habits.

Outdoor Dining Areas See Increase in Car Accidents

In August 2020, the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) reported that vehicles had crashed into temporary outdoor dining areas in New York City at least four times since the government allowed restaurants to serve meals outside. Eight people have been injured so far in Brooklyn, the Bronx, Queens, and Manhattan at street-dining areas.

On July 12, 2020, for example, a driver plowed into an expanded outdoor dining area for the 12 Corazones Restaurant, injuring a waitress and four diners. The driver mistakenly hit the accelerator instead of the brakes.

New York isn’t the only state dealing with these types of accidents. On July 10, 2020, an SUV plowed into the outdoor dining area for Nellie’s Place in Waldwick, New Jersey. Witnesses said the 57-year-old driver had just submitted a sample for a COVID-19 test at the Rite Aid up the street when she fainted while behind the wheel.

Her SUV hit the curb, crossed the street, and barreled into the restaurant parking lot, which had been set up for temporary outdoor dining. Fortunately, a tropical storm had kept the restaurant closed that day, and only the driver was hurt with non-serious injuries.

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