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