Crash & Bull Bars on Vehicles Cause Far More Danger than they Prevent


Often bought in the name of safety, it is a fact that crash bars or bull bars can actually create greater danger not only for pedestrians, bicyclists and other vulnerable road users who get hit, but also for people traveling in the vehicles to which the bars are fitted.

Photo of a former police Ford Crown Victoria now being used as a taxi, but with crash bars still fitted.
Because of the dangers created by crash bars (a.k.a. bull bars) it is wrong that former U.S. law enforcement vehicles can be sold to the public with the bars still fitted. This should be banned. (Copyright image)

 The problem is that not only do the bars create narrow and rock-solid impact areas to people who are hit — smashing bones and causing serious or fatal injuries — but the bars also cancel-out the benefits of deliberate, frontal crumple-zones that protect vehicle occupants during collisions.

Sadly, many people who buy bull bars actually do so in the belief that the bars will improve safety when, in fact, the opposite is very often the case.

Other people buy crash bars simply because they believe they look good.  Indeed, this disadvantageous aspect was considered serious enough for it to be discussed by the British government, as long ago as 1996.  Part of the discussion included:  “…bull bars [have] clearly played an important part in inflicting injuries, but I hope that we would not need to base our judgment entirely on the evidence of fatalities that have occurred. I would hope, as I said when I was discussing safety measures on vehicles, that we could be forward-looking enough to work out where accidents would be at their worst and take steps to prevent them from happening…” See this full discussion at Hansard.

From May 2007, fitting bull-bars to vehicles such as 4x4s [SUVs] became illegal in Britain and throughout Europe. In a move to improve pedestrian and cyclists’ safety on the road, EU law banned the sale and manufacture of protective metal frames. Farmers – for whom the idea was originally developed – must now find alternative means of shielding the front of their vehicles from marauding cattle and rogue tree branches. [Source: Farmers Weekly]

In countries like the USA, where vehicular interventions by the police and other law enforcement officers sometimes need to be forcefully aggressive, crash bars — a.k.a. bull bars — are often used to ram criminal suspects’ vehicles.  Given the indisputable fact that the fitting of the bars undeniably can increase danger in the event of a crash, it is sad and reprehensible that old law enforcement vehicles are frequently sold to members of the public while bull bars are still attached.

One of the most recent bad incidents resulting specifically from bull bars occurred in India, but they happen in all countries where such bars are used.

In Australia — where these fittings are known as ‘roo bars’ because they reduce damage caused by vehicles striking large kangaroos — some states have laws banning vehicles with the bars fitted from being driven in cities, because of the very serious dangers they create for pedestrians and cyclists.

Addendum:  Rod Hannifey has posted a very welcome comment, below, about the situation in Australia, as a result of which I did a bigger online search.  I believe it shows that neither Rod nor I were entirely accurate (and that’s not a criticism because it appears to be a rather complex issue).  In the new search, I found an August 2014 article in which rural drivers were — dare I say understandably — defending their ‘right’ to use what the Aussies call ‘roo bars to help protect vehicle occupants.

In some areas, rural drivers undoubtedly do need crash bars to help protect them during collisions with large animals.  I don’t think that’s an issue.  However, using the bars on vehicles in urban scenarios does present a very significant risk to people outside the vehicles in question and frankly should either be banned or severely restricted.

RESEARCH ON BULL BARS

2012;13(1):86-92. doi: 10.1080/15389588.2011.624143.

Bull bars and vulnerable road users  (2012)

Excerpt:  The literature reviewed in this study indicates that vehicles fitted with bull bars, particularly those without deformable padding, concentrate crash forces over a smaller area of vulnerable road users during collisions compared to vehicles not fitted with a bull bar. Rigid bull bars, such as those made from steel or aluminum, stiffen the front end of vehicles and interfere with the vital shock absorption systems designed in vehicle fronts. These devices therefore significantly alter the collision dynamics of vehicles, resulting in an increased risk of pedestrian injury and mortality in crashes. This literature review shows that bull bars do indeed increase the severity of injuries to vulnerable road users in the event of a collision and highlights the need for current traffic safety policies to reflect the safety concerns surrounding the use of bull bars.

Also:

A study of accidents involving bull bar equipped vehicles (TRL, 1996)

Author: EddieWren

Eddie Wren is the CEO and Chief Instructor at Advanced Drivers of North America. His driver safety background is given at: http://www.advanceddrivers.com/ceochief-instructors-resumecvbio/

12 thoughts on “Crash & Bull Bars on Vehicles Cause Far More Danger than they Prevent”

  1. Goodaye Eddie, there are no laws yet in Australia banning bull bars. There has been much discussion over the last few years and there have been changes to the types of bullbars that are legal to be fitted and there are laws against fitting fishing rod holders and other dangerous projections, but as a driver who in the last trip saw well over 100 kangaroos and another 50 dead on the side of the road, I do recognise their value in saving lives. Like anything, education of motorists will help more. People need to know how to deal with wildlife and often reefing the wheel to the side and possibly losing control, will only see the car crash and the animal hop away. As in all things, there is often a need for compromise and it largely depends on where and how far you travel, but I certainly agree that used government vehicles should have them removed before sale to the public. Cheers and Safe Travelling, Rod Hannifey.

    1. My apologies, Rod. I was under the very distinct impression that some urban areas in Oz had banned vehicles with the bars fitted.
      It is important for me to stress/reiterate that I have no qualms whatsoever about the use of ‘roo bars to guard against impacts with the larger kangaroo species (or other large creatures, wherever such collisions are a likely event, in any country).
      I think the most useful compromise would be the one I wrongly asserted to be the case — namely to ban the use of vehicles that have crash bars fitted, in any urban areas. The danger to pedestrians or any other people in the ‘Vulnerable Road Users’ category is clearly extreme.
      Thanks for your very valued comment.

      1. I’d like to know where you got that impression.

        The sheer number of these stupid things in Australia dictates that it will take a lot longer than Europe to change peoples minds & laws. Until then people will have to continue to pay for pig headedness with their lives.

    2. This is a very worn out argument. The plain facts are 1. The majority of bull bars will never even see a kangaroo let alone “save anyone’s life”, they are far more likely to cause disproportionally greater injury to a human in an accident. 2. The market for these things is the kind of person who says things like “if a bloody pedestrian or cyclist is stupid enough…..”. They are also unfortunately unable to get their head around the physics involved. There is a youtube video online showing “why Aussie trucks have bullbars”. Unfortunately, all it explains is more of the “safety” myth that people who buy these things believe.

      Once Australia moves more toward Euro standards, we will see Third party person & property insurance hikes for owners of these ridiculous fashion items…

  2. Yes, you are right. Bull bars to increase the crash damage to people….The f-wits in the speeding car coming at you from the front…The assholes playing ‘chicken’ in traffic for a laugh…The animal who happens to walk out in front of your car, giving you almost no seconds of reaction time.

    1. It looks like you’re just having a bit of fun, Mick, but your comment does raise three relevant points so here’s our reply:

      1. Unfortunately, if you are in collision with an oncoming vehicle, you can be hurt significantly worse if your own car or truck has bull bars fitted. This is for two reasons. Firstly, bull bars actually take away some of the crumple zone that is built into the front of your vehicle, thereby conveying a more violent impact to the occupants, and secondly the bull bars can interfere with the triggering (or not) of your airbags — again exposing you to greater injury or even death.

      2. The huge numbers of pedestrians killed in road crashes each year will include very few indeed who might deliberately be playing chicken.

      3. A large animal walking in front of your vehicle is precisely why a lot of people have bull bars in the first place. The bars will indeed usually reduce damage to your vehicle but in doing so they will increase the risk of death to the animal just as they would do if it were a pedestrian.

      Thanks for your comment.

    2. Your comment is representative of the psychology behind the need for bullbars. The false sense of security and concept that anyone who is injured by your device is asking for it is fairly pathetic, bordering on sociopathic.

      Just remember while cruising around with, your bullbar only “protects” you against less massive road users… then becomes a bit of a liability, especially against trees, trucks and rocks!!!

      Be safe out there!

      1. Goodaye Glen, as an Aussie truck driver, bullbars are essential for my safety and my job on any but major intercapital roads and sometimes even on those. Only two nights ago, I hit a roo which lept out from the side of the road. Without the bar fitted, it could have forced the bumper bar back onto the steer tyre and blown it. The aim of bullbars is not so much to stop any damage to the vehicle, but to minimise damage sufficiently to at the least hope you will still be able to travel on to get help or to a safer spot. Some of our roos can be over two metres and do come out of the scrub at good speed and you have nowhere to go and cannot swerve a loaded b-double without risking your own life. Some months ago I came upon a herd of cattle on the road and was lucky only to bump one, but 5 trucks without bullbars were so severely damaged when they hot a similar group, that all needed tow trucks. If you hit one without some protection, you can lose control after such an impact. They are essential in rural areas in Australia, or some motorists could do in remote areas. Safe Travelling, Rod Hannifey.

  3. It is not only bull bars which inflict more injuries to pedestrians. High vehicles, such as SUVs / UTEs, do the same thing.

    When hit by a modern sedan, pedestrians normally end up on the hood / bonnet and fall off to the side. But when hit by a high vehicles, such as SUVs, they are more likely to be thrown forward and run over. Unfortunately there are no regulations to address that problem.

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