Let's get the facts on bullbars

The Daily Telegraph

Friday 26 July 2002

TO many, four-wheel drive vehicles fitted with bullbars in urban areas are anathema, both unsafe and unnecessary in city traffic, and should be banned.

While this position is considered extreme, there is a growing number of people who share this opinion.

The issue has been brought back into focus on Wednesday by the tragic death of five-year-old Bethany Holder after she was hit by a 4WD vehicle with bullbars at Collaroy on the way to school.

Without suggesting it was a factor in this case, opponents argue that pedestrian injuries are maximised by bullbars, even when speed is not an issue.

However, much of the evidence is anecdotal and is derived from resentment of 4WD vehicles rather than conclusions based on statistics.

For instance, statistics record only the number of pedestrian and cyclist deaths that involve vehicles fitted with bullbars. It does not include an assessment of whether the bullbar was a factor in the death of the victim.

The Pedestrian Council of Australia cites the Federal Office of Road Safety as estimating that 14 per cent of pedestrian deaths each year can be attributed to bullbars -- about one death a week -- but there is no evidence to support this claim.

A study of coroners' reports into road deaths from 1992 conducted by the Australian Transport Safety Bureau confirms this. From 332 cases, 34 involved a vehicle with a bullbar. Of these, six did not come into contact with the front of the vehicle and eight involved a vehicle of more than 12 tonnes. In another eight, speed negated other factors.

Of the 12 remaining cases, because there is no statistical breakdown of the type of vehicle -- outside of heavy goods -- the vehicles involved could have been light commercial, conventional sedans or 4WDs.

On country roads, the bureau estimates bullbars save about five lives a year.

It must be acknowledged, however, that there are well-documented safety concerns over the size of 4WDs compared to other family vehicles and problems over vehicle height, particularly if reverse parking -- as pedestrian children may not be seen.

Concerns over bullbars in the past have led to the introduction of aluminium or plastic, rounded to fit the front of the vehicle instead of straight steel, to lessen the extent of impact injuries.

Yet despite the long-standing controversy, there is still a lack of proper data. Even accidents like the one that caused the death of young Bethany usually are not recorded as road accidents, as they occurred in a driveway or car park.

It is time the facts were established and acted upon. One unnecessary death is one too many.

If it is found that 4WDs or any vehicle with bullbars is attributable to any death in urban areas, they should be phased out in cities. Conversely, if there is no basis for these concerns, this must be accepted by the vocal critics of this type of vehicle.