There is concern about the increasing number of four-wheel-drive vehicles (US-speak: "Sports Utility Vehicle" SUV) in urban areas. On average, they cause more damage and injury than a car when involved in a crash.
Some of the reasons put forward for ownership of these
A lucrative bullbar manufacturing industry has built up in Australia and, politically, this makes it difficult to introduce regulations to control their use. For example, in the 1990s, the Victorian government introduced legislation which, in effect, prevents the Victorian road safety authority VicRoads from banning aggressive bullbars.
Access for the elderly
Another issue to consider when purchasing a 4WD is the difficult access due to the high floor and seats. Many elderly and disabled people have great difficulty getting into and out of these vehicles. So don't buy a 4WD just because it has extra seats - you might not be able to use them.
Under-rated danger to toddlers
Driveway accidents involving toddlers are an increasing concern. Recent investigations suggest that being run over in driveways is a major hazard for this age group (see Medical Journal of Australia, Vol 173, 21 Aug 2000, page 192). In many cases the vehicles are large 4WDs with poor visibility to the rear. Make sure you know where all young children are when you are about to reverse. And consider getting a wide view lens for the back window.
Mums are often left with the big 4WD to run the kids to
sometimes in the mistaken belief that they are much safer in a 4WD. I
when I see the mix of young children and big 4WDs around schools at
time. The large bonnet makes it very difficult to see if young children
- 9 Apr 03 Houston Chronicle: Biggest SUVs take hit in resale value
Vic Widman's comments (MD 9 Aug) about the safety of
vehicles deserve some clarification. As part of my professional work I
the NRMA and its partners in the assessment of the safety of vehicles.
Vic points out, the NRMA ratings on crashworthiness of vehicles do show
that some 4WDs perform well at protecting occupants, compared with most
is to be expected given the weight advantage of these vehicles over
However, there is a big range in performance amongst 4WDs - some are
poor at protecting occupants. The result is that, on average, the group
no better at protecting its occupants than large and medium cars. As a
however, large 4WDs are much more likely to seriously injure the
of other vehicles. This is a concern for road safety authorities around
Other issues to consider when looking at buying a 4WD compared with a car are: increased risk of rollover crashes, increased danger of young children being run over in low speed accidents, the difficulty that frail and disabled people have getting into and out of these high vehicles, higher running costs (approximately double that of a small car) and much greater environmental damage per kilometre travelled.
Vic runs a great 4WD training course and I can thoroughly recommend that anyone contemplating a 4WD tour should attend that type of course. I found his course very useful preparation for a Cape York tour where we hired a Landcruiser from Cairns. Another motorist in our group who drove her 4WD from Melbourne to Cairns spent about the same in running, servicing and motel costs as we spent on airfares and vehicle hire. And we didn't have that long, risky drive back home after the exhausting (bone shaking) holiday.
For some city people a 4WD is a great idea - all I am saying
is do your homework
before deciding to buy one and reduce your chance of being involved in
Risk of fatality is related to change in velocity ("delta V").
a two vehicle collision the delta-V is proportional to mass. Therefore,
IN THEORY, a vehicle that has twice the mass of the other
vehicle should experience half the delta-V. However, IN PRACTICE
many other factors come into play. Crash tests
of real world crashes suggest that, on average, four-wheel-drives
are not as safe as large passenger cars even though they are typically
than cars. Some possible reasons:
Consider a trip from Sydney to Cape York, at the top of Australia. The road distance from Sydney to Cairns is about 2700km and takes about 5 days driving each way. The air trip between Sydney and Cairns takes about 3 hours and costs about $500 per person (discount economy). In Cairns you can hire a Toyota Landcruiser for about $900 per week. Allow 2 weeks for the trip from Cairns to Cape York and back so the rental cost is about $1800. The fuel costs for this part of the trip are the same whether you own or rent the vehicle so they will be ignored.
Air fare for 4 adults = $2000
Rental for 2 weeks = $1800
Total = $3800
The drive from Sydney to Cairns and back will consume about $700 in fuel and tyres. Allow $100 per day for travelling costs such as accommodation (this is very low) so the cost for 10 days on the road is $1000.
Due to the water crossings on the Cape York trip you will need to arrange a major service on return to Sydney. Allow $1500 for this.
So far the trip in our own vehicle has cost $3200. Marginally ahead of renting.
Now here come the crunch. If you owned a Toyota Corolla instead of the heavy Landcruiser you would save about $4000 per year in standing and running costs (based on NRMA estimates for private ownership and 15,000km per year).
Fuel and tyres: Sydney-Cairns return $700
Travelling costs: Sydney-Cairns return $1000
Major service: $1500
Extra annual cost of 4WD compared with small sedan: $4000
In other words, you and your family could just about take a second trip to Cape York (or maybe the Kimberlies) with the money you save by only renting the 4WD when you actually need it!
Plus you haven't spent 10 days of your precious holidays on
road just getting to and from the place where the adventure starts, with
the added risk of a serious crash.
Myth Number 1 - Bullbars will protect me in a crash
As mentioned above, modern vehicle designs include a "crumple zone" at the front. This is designed to crush in a controlled manner to cushion the impact and reduce the loads on the vehicle occupants when they are thrown forward. Without this crumple zone the occupants could be exposed to life-threatening loads in a moderate crash. There is also a greater risk that the passenger compartment will collapse around the occupants.
The problem with most bullbars designs is that they bridge this crumple zone with a rigid structure. This means the vehicle cannot crumple in the manner in which it was designed. This exposes the occupants to a much greater risk of injury.
In the case of forward control vans the bullbar can transfer
crash forces into the cabin of the vehicle, rather than the chassis.
This situation is even worse when life-saving airbags are fitted. Vehicle manufacturers conduct considerable research in order to "tune" the airbag to the crush characteristics of the vehicle. When these characteristics are changed by a bullbar the airbag might be rendered useless because it fires too early or too late.
Myth 2 - Bullbars protect my vehicle from damage in a low speed collision
Tests by the NRMA show that a bullbar can increase the cost of repairs in a typical low speed collision. Firstly the cost of a replacement bullbar must be added to the repair cost. Secondly, the bullbar may transfer the crash forces deeper into the vehicle structure, causing more damage than would occur without a bullbar.
Bullbars might help reduce 'cosmetic' damage in the event of a very light collision, such as a car park accident but in more severe crashes they are likely to increase the cost of repairs. There are, and safer, ways to protect a vehicle form 'cosmetic' damage.
Other highly questionable reasons for fitting bullbars are that
The biggest concern about bullbars is the effect they have in a collision with a pedestrian, cyclist or motorcyclist. The extra rigidity of the bullbar will cause greater direct injury to these vulnerable road users. Children are particularly at risk because their head or chest is at the same height as the bullbar.
Recent tests by the University of Adelaide found that, in a test simulating a pedestrian's head striking the front of a Toyota Prado at 40km/h, a steel bullbar produced head decelerations typically 5 times greater than the "unprotected" vehicle and injuries would have been fatal. The aluminium bull-bar was not much better than the steel one.
However, a new design of moulded foam plastic bullbar performed exceptionally well - let us hope that this idea takes off! (The paper by the University of Adelaide will shortly be published in the proceedings of a joint Staysafe/SAE-Australasia conference "Developments in Safer Motor Vehicles"). The foam plastic bullbar is made by Team Poly Products Phone +61 8 8326 2256 Fax +61 8 8326 2257. See also the 1997 Australian Design Awards.
Another problem is the way that a pedestrian is typically thrown violently when struck by a vehicle with a bull bar - due to this effect even a low speed collision is more likely to be fatal if a bullbar is fitted.
Sequence from the Video "The Physics of Car Crashes" by the Roads and Traffic Authority of NSW. (Marketing Dept phone 02 92186315, fax 02 92183510)
A bullbar is also likely to cause more injury if the vehicle to
which it is fitted hits the side of another vehicle. The impact forces
from a bullbar
will usually be higher up on the struck vehicle, closer to the chest
head of the occupant of that vehicle.
Bullbars affect the smooth flow of air around the front of the vehicle and add weight. Both of these factors will increase fuel consumption and pollution.
It is estimated that a bullbar will increase fuel consumption by about 6% due to these effects. This equates to an extra running cost of at least $150 per year for a typical 15,000 annual kilometres.
Added to this is the financial cost of the bullbar purchase -
$50 per year - giving a total extra cost of $200 per year for the
"privilege" of having a bullbar at the front of your vehicle.
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Don't fit a bullbar! You will save money and you are less
likely to be involved in a fatal accident.