Authorities take no-bull approach

Sydney Morning Herald

Friday 15 Jun 2001
Section: DRIVE

A draft standard to protect pedestrians from vehicle protrusions will put makers between a bar and a hard place. By Debbie Anderson

The beginning of the end for the bullbar started this week in Adelaide, where the country's road safety authorities presented their final recommendations for a new Australian Standard.

The draft Vehicle Frontal Protection Systems Standard, yet to be approved, defines a raft of pedestrian and vehicle occupant safety requirements for new bullbars.

To comply, bars would be free of sharp edges, such as lights, antennas, winches or fishing rod-holders, that could "hook or graze a pedestrian" - and still would need to be effective against straying animals.

Manufacturers would be obliged to show their products (from the heavy-duty "bumper replacement" to lightweight nudge bars) would not compromise vehicle safety features, such as triggering airbags, in a low-speed, full-frontal crash.

The draft was prepared by a standards committee set up in 1998 and comprising representatives of industry, government, research and consumer groups.

It aims to reduce dramatically a pedestrian's chances of suffering brain injury if hit by a bullbar-equipped vehicle.

Its impending release, amid ongoing debate over the contribution of bullbars to road trauma, has sparked fierce criticism from some industry stakeholders.

A Victorian bullbar manufacturer claimed he'd have to build a bar "out of foam" to meet the specified head injury criteria (HIC).

"The car itself doesn't have to meet any of these criteria," said ARB Corporation director Andrew Brown. "It's a very emotive issue. [Standards Australia] won't ban bullbars - but they're going to make them damn hard to build."

Committee chairman Brian Wells said that would improve an industry for which polished aluminium bullbars were "more a status symbol than an absolute necessity - they serve no real practical purpose".

He said in three to five years, the Europe Community would release an international standard for more pedestrian-friendly vehicle fronts - and Australia tended to follow Europe.

An Australian Standard for bullbars, likely to be published early next year, would be voluntary unless State regulatory bodies decided to enforce it. The NSW Roads and Traffic Authority and VicRoads have declined to comment on the prospect of mandatory compliance.

Earlier this year, the RTA became the first State authority to crack down on sharp protusions on bullbars - already illegal under an Australian Design Rule - via registration renewals.

"Standards Australia won't ban bullbars - but they're going to make them damn hard to build."

The president of the Pedestrian Council of Australia, Harold Scruby, backed the idea of a compulsory standard. The many bullbars angled to force animals under the car, rather than over the bonnet, would fail to comply.

"The authorities have been turning their backs on it. We, in the city - where not one bullbar has a reason to be on any vehicle - are losing lives and limbs. But [the standard] is still only going to affect new bullbars."

According to the national Fatality Crash Database. 30 pedestrians, 10 cyclists and 50 vehicle occupants are killed each year in impacts with bullbar-equipped vehicles.

The Australian Transport and Safety Bureau, in a recent report, said the data on the respective crash risk posed by old and new bullbars were incomplete and data on animal strikes were inadequate.

The bureau found bullbars were more commonly fitted to large vehicles (four-wheel-drives and trucks) and those driven on rural roads. This made it difficult to isolate vehicle weight, height and speed from the effect - positive or negative - of a bullbar in a crash.

However, the report found, pedestrians killed in bullbar impacts had a unique injury profile with a combination of severe head, abdominal and chest injuries.

The bureau's experimental studies had shown "current improvements in bullbar design may offset the risks for pedestrians and other vulnerable road users".

NRMA vehicle safety manager Jack Haley said a polypropylene bullbar made by South Australian manufacturer Team Poly had been tested and had met the draft standard's criteria.

"We're saying it's possible to achieve the standard now," Haley said. "It's up to the metal [bullbar] manufacturers to meet that standard."

He did not foresee State registration authorities making compliance mandatory unless a range of complying bullbars came onto the market.

The standard sets out the following:

* bullbar profile must conform to the shape of the front of the vehicle to which it is fitted;

* top of the bullbar must be angled at least 10 degrees back from the foremost lower point of the bullbar;

* forward exposed leading edges must have a radius of at least 5 mm.