The bull bar's exact origin is sketchy, but they are believed to have been born in the bush, where they were designed to protect vehicles from collisions with animals on isolated roads. In a collision, the bar protects the front of the vehicle (especially the cooling system), reducing the chances of the driver being left stranded with a damaged vehicle in a remote location.
Bull bars are popular, and can be essential equipment in the bush where the risk of hitting an animal is high (and hitting a pedestrian is less). However, with many of these vehicles driven mainly on metropolitan streets, the bull bar has moved from an essential piece of vehicle protection, to a danger to other road users in the suburban environment.
A bull bar poses a risk on two levels. Firstly to traditionally vulnerable road users such as cyclists, pedestrians and motorcyclists. In addition, bull bars also pose a threat to other vehicles, in particular those that are smaller than the vehicle sporting the bull bar.
The new Bull Bar standard (Australian/New Zealand Standard AS/NZS 4876) describes a range of requirements for bull bar design, installation and performance. Many bull bars constructed in recent times would possibly already comply with many of the principles the standard embraces. The new standard is not designed to ban all bull bars or force their removal. Rather, it will compel all motorists to ensure their vehicle’s bull bars comply. While the new standard applies to new bars sold, traffic authorities are expected to take parts of it onboard to assess and moderate dangerous pre-existing bull bars – which could result in some owners being asked to modify the bar, or remove it altogether.
Key features for a satisfactory bull bar that provides protection to the vehicle bodywork, but does not unreasonably increase the risk of injury to other road users, include:
- The bull bar shape would be similar to the frontal shape and slope of the vehicle to which it is fitted. Sloping backwards from the bumper to the top is most desirable.
- The bull bar must be no wider than the vehicle body.
- Attachment to the vehicle must be secure enough to achieve the purpose of protecting the vehicle. All supports should be free of hazardous sharp edges or exposed projections.
- Other than the main replacement bumper, entirely tubular construction is preferred. Tube should be at least 40mm outside diameter and 50mm or larger is preferred. All exposed sections of the bull bar and fittings must be made from large diameter tubing, be deburred and should be designed to reduce the risk of injury to any person who may come into contact with the bull bar. All edges must be generously rounded, with no radius less than five mm. All tube ends are to be sealed.
- All brackets for lights, antennae, fishing rod holders and so on must be behind the bull bar. They must not protrude beyond the front face or above the bull bar. Items, such as winches, must be mounted behind the bar and covered to protect pedestrians from sharp edges or projections.
While many people believe that bull bars provide protection to occupants in the event of a crash, they can actually risk injury if fitted to vehicles with airbags. Fitting a bull bar changes the front stiffness of the vehicle which may cause a different signal to go to the airbag control computer and make the airbag deploy later than when needed.
A nudge bar (which is much smaller than a bull bar but still protects your vehicle’s cooling system) is an excellent alternative to a bull bar for city and suburban use, where the risk of colliding with a large animal is much less.
If you're sure you definitely need a bull bar, contact the vehicle manufacturer or a professional installer, who can advise you of the best bar to suit your needs.