Outlawed Abroad, Killer “Bull Bars” Are the Hot Fashion Accessory for Police Departments

General Motors pitches its product to police departments with aftermarket "bull bars," a feature that makes them look more intimidating and militaristic -- and kills pedestrians. Photo: General Motors/Twitter
General Motors pitches its product to police departments with aftermarket "bull bars," a feature that makes them look more intimidating and militaristic -- and kills pedestrians. Photo: General Motors/Twitter

This May, a police officer struck and killed James P. Kelley in St. Charles County, Missouri. In photos of the crash scene, you can see a broken “bull bar” falling from the deformed front end of the cruiser.

These accessories fixed to the front of cars, trucks, and SUVs are trendy with law enforcement. PoliceOne, which markets to cops and first responders, says bull bars are designed to “reduce the damage to patrol vehicles in the case of minor collisions.” A video produced by Go Industries, which sells equipment to police departments, demonstrates how bull bars can push other vehicles off the road, either in a high-speed chase or to clear an immobilized car. Some rural police agencies use them to reduce the damage from animals they strike.

But bull bars, or “push bars,” as they’re sometimes called, can be deadly in a collision with a pedestrian or cyclist.

A review of studies on the safety effect of bull bars published in the journal Traffic Injury Prevention concluded that they “significantly alter the collision dynamics of vehicles, resulting in an increased risk of pedestrian injury and mortality in crashes.”

A 1998 study in Australia — where bull bars are much more common and seen as a way to reduce risk in collisions with kangaroos — found they exerted 10 to 15 times more force on a child’s head than an unmodified front end.

They can also put drivers and passengers in danger. Front ends are designed with “crumple zones” that absorb the impact of crashes to protect people inside the vehicle. Stiff metal bull bars inhibit that effect and concentrate force in a smaller area, with potentially deadly consequences.

Bull bars continue to be unregulated in the U.S., where, as Keith Bradsher documented in his book High and Mighty, they are mainly a fashion accessory to convey a sense of aggression. But other countries have taken action.

In 2010, the British government banned the sale of most models, citing safety concerns. An earlier study from the British Transport Research Laboratory (TRL) estimated that bull bars cost dozens of people their lives each year in the UK.

Meanwhile, American auto makers are marketing vehicles replete with bull bars to taxpayer-funded agencies whose ostensible mission is to keep people safe.

Researchers have yet to produce comprehensive studies of crashes involving police vehicles with bull bars. But police officers are frequently involved in crashes. And if police vehicles are outfitted with bull bars, they are more likely to inflict severe injuries or kill people.

A quick Google News search turned up seven pedestrian fatalities involving police cruisers in May, June, and July. While it’s seldom clear from the coverage whether the vehicles had bull bars, photographs from the scene often show police cruisers outfitted with them. The vehicle identified as the cruiser that struck James Kelley clearly had a bull bar.

This photo of the aftermath of a fatal pedestrian crash shows the police cruiser was outfitted with a bull bar, which appears to have fallen off but looks undeformed. Photo: KMOV
The front of this police cruiser involved in the killing of James Kelley was outfitted with a bull bar. Photo: KMOV

In Sioux Falls, South Dakota, the local police department recently had to defend its use of bull bars after a resident complained about safety and police militarization. The Argus Leader reported that the department had spent $22,000 to put them on 45 police cars.

Barry Wellar, a retired University of Ottawa professor and expert witness on traffic collisions, told the paper they are dangerous. “They’re head high for a kid. They can take the bull bar right in the head,” he said. “And they’re absolutely killer for cyclists or pedestrians. It’s serious trouble.”

But Police Captain Rich Miller told the City Council that the bars allow more sirens and lights to be mounted on the front of the car. He presented no evidence to suggest that the extra flash outweighs the public safety risk created by bull bars, and that was that — the department didn’t change a thing.

  • Joe R.

    Why am I not surprised? I’m sure the primary reason is to make police vehicles look even more intimidating. It’s sickening that people are dying due to an obsession with superficialities.

  • TakeFive

    ” they are mainly a fashion accessory to convey a sense of aggression.” That’s non-sense. I’m not aware of police running into pedestrians. I do know that a lot of scofflaws use their (stolen vehicles) as weapons so at least where I am (Phoenix) this is a solid idea.

  • Kwyjibo

    “I’m not aware of police running into pedestrians.”

    Thimble-full in the ocean.

  • “I’m not aware of police running into pedestrians.”

    Umm…did you read the article…or specifically, even the first sentence:

    “This May, a police officer struck and killed James P. Kelley”

  • TakeFive

    HA, forgot that. Don’t follow St Louis news and one exception doesn’t change my thinking.

  • Jason

    Look at how they’re sticking them on a fucking pickup. With an SUV you can wave your arms around and make up some bullshit about needing bulkier gear or whatever. But a fucking pickup? What are you doing, sticking a bunch of police gear in the open-air truck bed where anyone can fucking grab it while the cops are distracted?

    The inclusion of the pickup truck in the marketing says SO FUCKING MUCH about how this is just marketing toward the general sort of insecure asshole who thinks a pickup truck is securing their manlihood.

  • Joe R.

    My feelings exactly. I’ll also add that the larger and more aggressive looking the vehicle, the more likely the driver’s own “equipment” is on the diminutive side.

  • Andrew
  • anon_coward

    i’ll probably get them for my next car. Too much minor damage to my minor car while parked on the street. Next time someone decides to bump my car while parking, they’ll get what they deserve.

    Same with cops. Auto body work is insanely expensive and it’s cheaper to buy these things pay out thousands of $$$ to fix minor damage

  • disqus_1pvtRUVrlr

    Another false and hyperbolic article. The photos don’t show a bull bar hanging from the front end. That shows the plastic bumper cover and other lightweight materials damaged from the crash. A bull bar is heavy steel and attached to the frame and it doesn’t crumple or separate from the vehicle. Ironically, if it were a bull bar it wouldn’t be hanging loose, precisely because of the claim you are asserting; they are rigid, heavy and unforgiving.

    Secondly, the guys was on the interstate. Look at the degree of damage to the vehicle. Being hit by a car on the interstate (likely at 60+) is virtually guaranteed to result in a fatality, even if it were a motorcycle or a subcompact. If they are complicit in fatalities then surely you can find examples of crashes to document the problem instead of fabricating a story.

  • disqus_1pvtRUVrlr

    While crossing the interstate with a bunch of possessions after having scaled a fence to do so. That bad, bad po-po.

  • disqus_1pvtRUVrlr

    A lot of histrionic arm flailing here. PDs use trucks for various purposes. As noted in the article, they often use vehicles with “bull bars” to push disabled vehicles and there are times when a truck is deployed for other uses requiring a heavier vehicle.

  • David P.

    “The vehicle identified as the cruiser that struck James Kelley clearly had a bull bar.” – just how, exactly, is this clear? There is no eveidence whatever of a push bar (which is what these bars are actually called) on the vehicle involved in the collision. What you see in the still photo and videos is the front fascia.

  • In His Name

    Of course, the cop-lovers who think LEOs are always great people who only care about protecting citizens (gag me) will argue that cops would never be so immature, so adolescent in their little minds that they would want Bull Bars because they look cool. And, as always is the case, the cost of these killer bars is borne by the tax payer; so what’s not to like? Cops live off the taxes of working, productive citizens and they have come to believe that they deserve all the coolest little toys and gadgets to further arrest, restrain, beat, taze, cuff, spray and shoot the scary public.

  • “Bully Bar,” in fact.

  • TakeFive

    Thanks… Obviously my impulsive statement wasn’t the smartest. 🙂

  • Guy Ross

    Um, not so. Here are how crown Vickis were equipped with padded and springed ‘push bars’ which a police offer used to push me once to the next gas station when I was in college (thanks dude). https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/0bdcee147b913b58f80d80031ba8e78c2dabbfd9a95d3e041d56703e2c1ac514.jpg what you see on these new models are absolutely ‘bull bars’ designed to allow you to literally hit a bull and not damage your car in addition to making insecure males feel more masculine.

    If you tried to push a car with one of these you would significantly damage the pushed car. It’s bullshit and is a good snapshot of the problems with the culture of policing in the United States.

  • AnoNYC

    Do the bull bars really make a difference in a crash to protect the vehicle?

    https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/c4e35d0ea38410ca728bcf5b86946bb48fca972161a52dfb3a41d47dac8d68f1.jpg

  • AnoNYC

    They might prevent bumper scratches during a very low speed collision/push, but they don’t appear effective at typical driving speeds.

    https://www.brooklyndaily.com/assets/photos/2016/1/bn-cop-crash-2016-01-01-bk01_z.jpg

  • midringrider

    Should be killer bar.

  • Lauren Bertrand

    Never fear! You’re increasingly getting your way of ridding our nation of those noxious LEOs. It’s getting increasingly difficult to recruit new ones.

    Granted, there’s no evidence that crime will go down in places where the cops have been gelded (Chicago and Baltimore being the two most obvious examples). So, with less law enforcement infrastructure, the decadent urban playgrounds of 2018 may again resemble the crime-ridden hellscape of 1978 if we simply cannot find anyone do to a job that, up until 10 years ago, was part of the fundamental infrastructure for promoting the civility we expect in first world countries.

    But at least we won’t have those parasites in blue, and our poorest communities will live in perfect harmony, with no fear of crime whatsoever.

  • pxmpxm

    I hate to inject rationality into what essentially is a projection of your personal hysterics, but there are no bull bars on the Charles County squad cars:
    https://cbsstlouis.files.wordpress.com/2017/10/dm6ewufwkailuuk.jpg?w=1024&h=576&crop=1

    Also rather than your theory about military looking things that don’t produce joy-joy feeling on your end, the bumper things have been a standard practice literally since cops got squad cars: http://tomcarp.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/06/1956-ford-nj-state-police-car-1950s-ford.jpg

  • JZ71

  • JZ71

    The reality is that most public employees are trained NOT to offer to push disabled vehicles off of the highway, with their vehicle, due to the potential for damage to either vehicle. About the only ones that are, are motorist assist workers, and their push bumpers are big, flat and padded. The two biggest reasons we’re seeing increasing use of bull bars is to minimize damage to an increasingly-expensive vehicle and because they are a good/better place to mount emergency lights on the front of the vehicle. Yes, they add a tougher “look”, but most departments are struggling to keep the total costs within a specified budget, so there’s going to be a limit to purely cosmetic additions.
    http://www.modot.org/business/contractor_resources/gs_bidding/images/SideViewPicture.jpg

  • Lauren Bertrand

    From KMOV, the St. Louis news source:
    “Officials with the St. Charles County Police Department told News 4 they do not believe the officer was speeding at the time of the incident. They also said there is no way the officer could have avoided hitting the man.”

    Indeed, the bull bar had nothing to do with this, yet it still serves as the crux of the argument. But we idiots need to trust our cultural superiors in the journalistic class–how dare we presume they’re fabricating narratives to skew an argument. We must trust that they have our best interests at hand. They are much smarter than us.

  • Victim blaming eh?

    I guess you support extra judicial executions then?

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