A bullbar (also roo bar or nudge bar in Australia) is a device fitted to the front of a vehicle to protect its occupants in a collision with a large animal. They vary considerably in size and form, and are usually made of welded steel or aluminium tubing, and, more recently, moulded polycarbonate and polyethylene materials. Due to the number of deaths and injuries caused by the rigid fronts of cars, often with metal bullbars (in 2000 some 2,000 deaths/year and 18,000 serious accidents/year in Europe), the sale of metal bullbars was banned by a European Union Directive.
Studies have shown bull bars to cause an increase in the risk of death and serious injury to pedestrians. This is because the bull bar is rigid and so transmits all the force to the pedestrian, unlike a bumper which absorbs some force and crumples.
The "bull" in the name refers to cattle, which in rural areas sometimes roam onto roads and highways.
Design and terminology
In Australia, the term "roo bar" generally refers to a light-weight bullbar, suited to sedan vehicles; however, both "bullbar" and "roo bar" are somewhat interchangeable.
Where cattle are more prominent and where larger four-wheel drive vehicles are used, drivers use larger steel bullbars.
Brushbars (or Bush Bars) are similar to bullbars, often integrated into the bullbar design. They protect the front of the vehicle, especially headlights, from brush and small trees.
"Nudge bars," another kind of bullbar, are generally fitted to sedans and small SUVs, and consist of light aluminium or polycarbonate tubing that protects only the radiator grille and areas without replacing the bumper bar. Bullbars typically replace the front bumper or fender, so most require indicator light housings.
Bullbars are sometimes used as a platform for mounting spotlights and vehicle recovery winches. Radio antennas for equipment such as CB radios are often mounted onto bullbars, even though mounting above the roof provides better performance.
Bullbars incorporating a winch are often known as "Winch bumpers", especially in the UK where bullbars made of metal have, as mentioned above, been banned. However, a steel bullbar incorporating a winch is legal.
As a safety feature, traditional bars are built to protect the vehicle, which is considered less safe than allowing controlled deformation to absorb kinetic energy during a collision. Modern design of bullbars and roo bars has advanced so some vehicle manufacturers and aftermarket companies now offer impact bars which integrate with the vehicle safety system, such as activation of airbags after collision with the bullbar. Plastic bullbars made from materials such as polyethylene are designed to act like a spring and deflect due to the force of a collision so that the vehicle is still driveable after striking an animal. These designs are more "pedestrian friendly" than the same vehicle without any bullbar.
There are many aspects relating to the proper construction of a bullbar. It is widely accepted that the channel section which provides the strength for the protection system must be constructed from one piece of material and free from sections bolted on or welded together. The thickness of the material is something which should be considered when choosing a bullbar, generally the thicker the material, the stronger the product delivering greater protection. The grade of material is also important, products manufactured from steel or hi-tensile/structural grade alloys are stronger than a standard alloy or polymer products.
In recent times bullbars have become popular also as a cosmetic accessory, particularly on the larger four wheel drive and Sports Utility Vehicles (SUVs). Studies and media attention to them  and their role in increasing pedestrian deaths led to an agreement with the European Union among carmakers not to install them on new vehicles from January 1, 2002. This was followed by a full EU ban on the sale of rigid bullbars (e.g., by aftermarket fitters). Vehicles that already had them fitted prior to the ban remain legal.
Kangaroos are a primary road safety hazard in Australia, hence the alternative name "roo bar." Kangaroos account for over 60% of collisions between vehicles and animals in Australia; the next most common type of animal being dogs at 12%. This high animal strike incidence is why roo bars are most commonly fitted to vehicles in Australia in outback or rural areas.
Over recent years there has been debate in Australia regarding the safety implications of fitting a bullbar, especially as four-wheel drives and their accessories are becoming increasingly popular in urban areas. The use of bullbars in urban areas is criticised by cycling and pedestrian organisations.
Bullbar manufacturers in Australia must conform to Australian standard AS47861.1/2002. In some states it may be illegal to drive a vehicle fitted with a bullbar that does not comply with the Australian Design Rules (ADRs). The main ADR requirement that applies to bullbars is a clause within ADR 42/xx (where xx designates a version number), which states (in part) that:
"No vehicle shall be equipped with any object or fitting, not technically essential to such vehicle, which protrudes from any part of the vehicle so that it is likely to increase the risk of bodily injury to any person."
This requirement is not specifically aimed at bullbars but does effectively prescribe requirements for their construction. ADR 42/00, the first version of this rule, applied to vehicles built from July 1988. Australian Standard AS4876.1-2002 Motor vehicle frontal protection systems Part 1: Road user protection was released in 2002, and applies construction rules to all bullbars manufactured since that date, regardless of the age of the vehicle that they are fitted to. Similar requirements for older vehicles fitted with bullbars manufactured before that Australian Standard was implemented exist only in state legislation.
In 2003, NSW State Member of Parliament, Anthony Roberts suggested there is little or no enforcement of the ADR requirement and Harold Scruby (of the Pedestrian Council of Australia) has proposed that modern standards should be made retrospective.
Bullbars are not allowed to cause a vehicle to fail to comply with other ADRs to which they were originally constructed. This includes visibility of lights, such as headlights and indicators; but it particularly relates to ADR 69/00, the rule for Full frontal impact protection. In order to comply with this rule, bullbars manufactured for vehicles equipped with SRS (airbag systems) must be tested for compatibility with the airbag system.
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