Bump off bullbars

Courier Mail

Tuesday 7 October 2003
By Madonna King

ONE in four fatal crashes in Queensland now involves a bullbar. That's the frightening result of new research into vehicle accidents across our state.

This is not the only startling statistic to come out of the yet-to-be-released research -- the first of its kind. Most bullbar crashes occur in urban areas, with 63 per cent in 60km/h speed zones.

That fact should be reason enough to ignore the pro-bullbar lobby and restrict the accessory to rural areas.

The research involved more than 3300 RACQ members, along with an audit of all crashes in Queensland over a six-month period that were reported to police from the traffic incident reports system, and injuries from hospital emergency department data.

Conducted by the University of Queensland, Queensland University of Technology and police, it also found:

* Four-wheel-drive vehicle sales nationally had increased 213 per cent over the past decade, effectively trebling the number of 4WD vehicles on our roads.

* One in four drivers surveyed had a bullbar fitted to their vehicle and that vehicle was most likely a 4WD.

* When a pedestrian, motorcyclist or cyclist was involved, the outcome for the victim or victims was worse

But of all the findings of the research, funded by the Centre for Accident Research and Road Safety in Queensland and the Motor Accident Insurance Commission, three facts stand out: one in four fatal crashes involves a bullbar, more crashes occur in urban areas, and in low-speed zones.

Those three salient facts back up other studies, such as the Federal Office of Road Safety which has estimated that bullbars are involved in up to 20 per cent of pedestrian deaths.

So isn't it time we stopped ignoring the research and created policies to curb the carnage on our roads? And that should begin by debating whether 4WDs fitted with bullbars have any role on our city streets.

Historically, vehicles were fitted with bullbars in rural areas to protect the front of the vehicle and the driver in collisions with animals such as kangaroos.

But their popularity has surged along with the move toward 4WD vehicles which are perceived as ideal for recreational uses such as camping and fishing, are liked for their roomier interiors and are believed safer than other vehicles.

The report's chief investigator Adjunct Associate Professor Caroline Acton says many city-dwellers buy 4WDs for safety reasons, unaware that research also exists to discount that perception.

While the researchers of the report Bullbars, Crashes and Injury in Queensland are careful to say little evidence exists to suggest that fatalities would not occur anyway -- even if a bullbar were not present -- they pinpoint the number of 4WDs on our roads as a cause for concern.

“Of concern is the apparent rising number of 4WD vehicles on Australian roads,” the report says.

“Our data show that this type of vehicle is more likely to be fitted with a bullbar, and constitutes a quarter of all bullbar crashes”

PEDESTRIAN Council of Australia chairman Harold Scruby believes it's only a matter of time “until someone sues the owner of one of these vehicles for a lot of money”.

He says Queensland is “much worse” than many other states, and a culture exists in which “you have to have a huge bullbar on the car to prove mine is bigger than yours”.

The situation is also worse in Queensland because of the number of vehicles fitted with knifelike fishing-rod holders attached to bullbars. “They're akin to putting four butcher's knives on the front of the car,” he says. “In four days, my wife and I counted more than 100 in and around Noosa.”

A snap audit of vehicles in Mooloolaba over two mornings by this columnist confirms Scruby's claim about the popularity of the rod holders.

His comments, along with the new research, should provide the catalyst in this state for a real debate on banning 4WDs with bullbars from our cities.

Anyone who is wavering should have a chat to Rob Owens, who is campaigning to have 4WDs restricted to rural areas for good reason. His two teenage daughters -- Casey Louise, 18, and Daina Vee, 15 -- were killed in a hit-and-run accident earlier this year by a vehicle allegedly fitted with a bullbar. Only a decade ago, Owens lost one of his legs when a 4WD collided with his motorbike. “If it didn't have a bullbar, I'd still have two legs,” he says.
Owens has written letters and lobbied everyone he can think of to help ban bullbars from city streets.

“They shouldn't be allowed. We don't have bulls and kangaroos running around the city. They should be confined to rural areas.”

Surely that's just common sense. Too many people are dying on our roads. And we've begun to see them as statistics, not as mums and dads, brothers and sisters, sons and daughters.
If we could reduce the road toll by just one or two by banning bullbars from our cities, wouldn't it be worth it?

Madonna King is a visiting fellow in journalism at Queensland University of Technology.

Her column appears every Tuesday madonnak@bigpond.net.au