The AgeThursday 27 November 2003
|Author: Debbie Anderson
New international standards for vehicle design are set to put some makers between a bar and a hard place.
It is not just the bumper that will be affected by the change in car design laws. All parts of the front of a vehicle that might come into contact with a pedestrian or animal will be under the spotlight - and it could spell the beginning of the end for a popular vehicle accessory in Australia, the bullbar.
Despite their popularity, bullbars and roo bars have come under fire in recent years.
Authorities in NSW, for example, have cracked down on sharp protrusions on bullbars, which are illegal under an Australian Design Rule, via registration renewals.
In 1998, a standards committee began drafting a new Vehicle Frontal Protection Systems Standard. That standard was drafted to require all new bullbars to be free of sharp edges such as lights, antennas, winches or fishing-rod holders that could hook or graze a pedestrian, in a bid to dramatically reduce a pedestrian's chances of suffering brain injury if hit by a bullbar-equipped vehicle.
Meanwhile, the Pedestrian Council of Australia has routinely slammed bullbars for their role in vehicle impacts with pedestrians - particularly in urban areas where, according to the council's chairman, Harold Scruby, bullbars are a "fashion item".
Bullbars have also been criticised for their potential to compromise vehicle crash safety features. A bullbar can interfere with the triggering of airbags, for example. It can also affect the behaviour of a vehicle's front crumple zone, designed to protect cabin occupants by buckling in a controlled manner during a crash.
Kangaroos could be unintended beneficiaries of new laws to make car design more pedestrian-friendly.
Collisions between animal and vehicles in Australia are a huge safety risk. The RACV estimates the annual cost in terms of injuries to people and damage to property at more than $10 million.
And kangaroos - particularly eastern grey, western grey and red kangaroos - are by far the animal most likely to suffer.
RACV Insurance found kangaroos accounted for almost 60 per cent of "animal collision" claims it received in the 12 months to August. Dogs, the next most likely animal to be hit by vehicles, accounted for about 12 per cent.
Nationwide, the number of kangaroo-vehicle collisions is about 20,000 a year, according to Holden estimates.
Despite the advent of sonic devices such as the Shu Roo and wildlife warning reflectors such as Swareflex, the number of vehicle-kangaroo collisions is increasing, according to a recent report from the University of Melbourne's department of zoology.
But new vehicle design laws will mean front-end components including the grille and headlight/indicator lenses will have to be made soft enough to absorb the energy of an impact.
Of course, that won't reduce the number of vehicle-animal collisions (particularly when traffic volume is rising), but it could reduce the severity of animal injuries and fatalities.