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Cheers - AE

Saturday, 29 January 2011

Roobar or FUBAR

In a change to my scheduled ranting todays planned rant on soccer and misogyny is replaced by one about a Nanny state story that I noticed mid week and which has been jammed up my nose ever since, because otherwise I'd probably never get round to it. 

Nannyism occasionally seems to be less about making things safer than shifting the harm to somewhere that Nanny tends not to look at too often. So it is with the latest proposal of the federal Nannies, which is to ban roobars and bullbars. And for why? Well, as was the case for the bullbar ban in the UK and Europe it's all in the name of pedestrian safety, natch, but apparently it's also because the UK and Europe have banned them. No, seriously.
According to reports, the Federal Government is thinking of taking on rules adopted by European countries which were developed by the United Nations Economic Cooperation. These rules also ban things like Roo bars, nudge bars and the like.
Okay, but Europe is not known for having millions of bouncing animals with the road sense of retarded toddlers, each of which is capable of doing up to around 40 mph, can change direction very quickly and without warning, and is close to the weight of an adult human. Let me just show you this:

And what can you expect to happen to your car when you hit one? As one of the commenters on this YouTube clip of a kangaroo damaged ute puts it, it depends on how high up in the air the bastard is when you hit him. By the looks of the intact front end and caved in roof of the police Ford Falcon on the left it probably collected Skippy when he was three feet up or so, though you'd be forgiven for thinking something fell on it. Apparently it wrote the car off. Things aren't much better if you get it lower down unless you're not on speaking terms with your lights and radiator.

That apparently happened about 70 kms from Alice Springs (though north or south I'm not sure) and since the car is on a recovery vehicle it's a pretty safe bet it wasn't drivable. And just in case you're wondering how hard it is to phone for a reccer when you're stuck 70 kms from Alice, here's the answer.

Bloody hard.

Dark orange is covered, mid orange should get a signal if you've got an external antenna. And coverage in the yellow areas? That's shouting or Telstra Mobile Satellite, the cheapest package being nearly $2,500 for a two year contract (but includes the handset and $10 of calls per month - enough to last a whole 8½ minutes). The only other options are a walk to the nearest roadside emergency phone or to wait for someone else to come along and stop, and hope they either have a satphone or will let the police and/or recovery services know you're stuck. The highway either side of Alice Springs is fairly busy and is a fairly benign place to hit wildlife and bugger the car as far as being rescued goes, but needless to say there are roads far less frequently travelled and with fewer or no emergency phones.

Mobile reception, you ask? Ahahahahaha.

And all this assumes that having run into Skippy the car is the only thing that's damaged and it doesn't actually kill you. You don't need to be a rocket scientist to work out that 50+ kilos of bone, muscle and fur (though almost no brain whatsoever) coming through your windscreen might well do that, which is why the first time one of the bastards jumped out on a road in front of me my arse opened so wide I needed surgery to get the driver's seat out of it. And with livestock, wild horses and feral camels the roos aren't even the biggest things you can run into on outback roads. For my money though kangaroos are the scariest just because there are so many of them, and they're scarier still at night when they appear without any warning and, because it's cooled down enough for them to be more active, you're much more likely to be sharing the road with one without even knowing it. What? Did you think you just had the snakes and spiders to worry about when you booked your holiday?

And although you obviously want to avoid hitting it if you can, according to the Northern Territory's Transport Minister (who sounds fairly sane and un-Nannyish for a politician) you don't want to try too hard and crash off the road either.
... Gerry McCarthy, the Northern Territory's Transport Minister who drives more than 110,000 kilometres a year on remote roads, told The Age bullbars were a necessary vehicle accessory for people in regional and remote Australia [and he] he would block any attempt to ban bullbars at a meeting of federal and state transport ministers in Alice Springs in May, and was confident his colleagues from Western Australia, South Australia and Queensland would support him.

''Bullbars are a protective device. If there is a 800-kilogram scrub bull on the road, I want a bullbar on the front of my vehicle,'' he said.

Mr McCarthy said he wanted to send a strong message to drivers on outback roads. ''I know it may sound harsh to people in the cities, but drivers should not swerve their vehicle to avoid hitting an animal such as a kangaroo on the road,'' he said.

''It is better to hit the animal rather than risk a single-vehicle rollover,'' he said. ''Statistics in the NT show that many accidents and some fatalities are caused by rollovers.''
I can well believe it. As bad as it would be to have broken down on the side of the road hundreds of miles from anywhere and be sitting watching the front of your car dripping vital fluids of engine and roo alike, it'd be far worse to have missed him only to end up just off the road and upside down. The obvious solution then is something sturdy mounted to the front of the car so that if you do hit an animal the cooling system and lights, the bits that are probably most vulnerable to damage and the loss of which will stop the car from limping on, actually have a decent chance of surviving the impact in working order.

Now I'm not going to argue that they aren't fairly pointless in towns and cities because clearly they are. They add weight to the car's front end, and over the axle at that, which obviously has a knock on effect on fuel consumption and possibly handling (you'll also lose whatever it weighs off the vehicle's maximum carrying capacity). And yes, they are also very dangerous to pedestrians if you happen to hit one. But is that reason to ban them when they are quite literally lifesavers in areas where kangaroo collisions are common? Don't you run the risk of saving some extra lives in towns at the expense of losing some extra lives elsewhere? You'd need to convince me that there really is a net benefit and I think that could be tricky. For starters you have to consider that according to Prof. Robert Anderson, the Deputy Director for the University of Adelaide's Centre for Automotive Research (and not particularly a bullbar supporter) speaking on this recording of an ABC radio talk show (or download for later here) only 7-10% of pedestrian collisions involve a vehicle fitted with bars. Since less than 200 pedestrians die each year (193 in 2008 (PDF)) the upper limit you could save by banning roo bars is under 20. Then you'd have to discard all those who for whatever reason - speed, size of vehicle, health, knocked into the path of another vehicle, etc - would have died even if the car had not had bars. That PDF indicates that about 10% of pedestrian deaths involve trucks and buses hitting pedestrians and for that number I'd guess it probably doesn't make much difference whether the vehicle was fitted with bars. Looking at other tables it shows that around a quarter of deaths involve elderly pedestrians and that proportion increases to about a third when you add the under 4s. I think it's likely that a significant percentage will be non-survivable even without bars, so realistically the best a ban is likely to achieve is about 12-15 saved. How does that stack up against the numbers who are saved by their roo bars, or who might have been if they'd been encouraged to fit some? Difficult to say since there are no figures to say exactly how many vehicles have got them (this PDF mentions an estimate of 10% or 1.15 million) and nor can I find any to say how many of those vehicles hit animals in a way which would have killed an occupant. Nobody ever records non-deaths and there isn't an obvious way to do it anyway, but since one source suggests upward of 200,000 kangaroo collisions a year I feel it's likely to be rather more 12-15.

Okay, so what about making owners take their bars off to come into urban areas or banning them from vehicles registered to an urban address (comments made on the ABC website here at 25 Jan 2011 8:56:12am and 9:26:55am, apparently in all seriousness):
It would be worthwhile banning the little "nudge bars" that some cars have. They wouldn't stop anything bigger than a rabbit, but they could injure a pedestrian.

I don't know how bullbars attach, but maybe they should be removed in the cities, just like the way you need to remove fishing rod carriers (the ones that attach to the bullbar) unless you are actually carrying rods in them.
... when you register a car it would be a simple matter to apply a rule depending on which suburb the owner lives in. It wouldnt stop country people driving to the city, but it would remove the problem of a huge number of people commuting everyday with bullbars in suburban areas.
Oh dear, oh dear. Firstly the name nudge bar implies it's to protect from nudges, i.e. impacts at extremely low speed, and possibly for nudging things out of the way. No, it won't do much against anything you hit at cruising speed, but that wouldn't be called a nudge, would it? It's also as much use as a tit on a fish for mounting a winch to, which is something off roaders sometimes like to have fitted for when they get stuck. Secondly taking them off and on is not a quick job like changing a wheel. It can take hours and could bugger up the airbags if not done properly, to say nothing of the obvious dangers implied by a poorly fitted bar. It should probably be left to the pros but if people are forced to go to a specialist on the edge of town every time they go on a camping trip or come into the city from a rural area it won't be - people will do DIY to save the expense and some of them will do poor jobs. As for the other guy's idea of banning urban owners, what about the driver who does most of his driving in the city but goes out into remote areas now and then? Is that a reason to deprive him of what he regards as essential safety equipment just because the people who see him driving round the inner suburbs think he's posing? Is that a reason to make his car possibly less desirable to rural buyers when he comes to sell it?

And even a bar fitted for purely for pose value shouldn't be banned. Personally I wouldn't have one but I don't support banning anything based on what I personally wouldn't do, especially if my personal risk seems pretty low. As far as cars and roobars go I've always had an unspoken agreement with motorised traffic that if it would stay off the pavement then I'd stay out of the road or exercise due care if I had to cross, and since this has so far had 100% success at not being run over I really don't care what someone fits to their car. Christ, deck it out like a prop from a Mad Max movie if you want. If we both obey the road rules and be sensible I'm probably more likely to be hit by lightning. For me bullbars and roobars are even more motivation for me to stay out of the road, but above all else I recognise that they're an essential piece of safety equipment for some people. And oddly enough while the federal government seems oblivious this fact is actually quite well known in Canberra.
Canberra, the ACT (Australian Capital Territory - Angry E) and adjacent areas in NSW, are 'hot spots' for motor vehicle collisions involving kangaroos. NSW police have attended far more collisions in the Yass-Goulburn-Queanbeyan area than anywhere else, including other NSW country towns and rural districts. In Canberra, rangers commonly record more than 1,000 roadside kangaroo attendances per year, and estimate there are twice as many collisions as attendances. This is not reducing the kangaroo populations, nor is the annual increase in the number of collisions due merely to expansion of Canberra and increased numbers of cars. The rate per registered vehicle, of motor vehicle collisions involving kangaroos, has been increasing significantly.

In a 2008 telephone survey of 600 Canberra residents, out of the respondents who had ever owned an ACT registered vehicle, 17 per cent stated that the vehicle had hit a kangaroo on an ACT road.
Recall that a ban would save perhaps 15 lives a year nationwide and consider that 17% of the ACT, which for comparison is roughly comparable in size and population density to East Yorkshire or one of the smaller French departments such as Vaucluse, comes to more than 60,000 people. Now what do you think would happen if 17% of the residents there had hit a similar sized animal, say a fallow deer? Yeah, exactly. Canberra are talking about following Europe's lead but I can't help thinking that if faced with the same problem far from banning the things the Euronannies might have made "deer-bars" compulsory by now.

PS - there was another comment on the ABC website that caught my attention because it touched on recent themes on this blog, those of intolerance, denormalisation and the march of those little boots of hatred. Yes, I'm talking about the ongoing vilification of the poor smokers again, and this comment is a perfect example of why I stand with them even though I quit ages ago. As I often find myself saying,
Niemöller was right.
george: 25 Jan 2011 8:47:24am
There is clearly no place for bullbars on urban vehicles or in urban settings.

Why do we police speeding and other other sometimes minor misdemeanors so ferociously but ignore known hazards?

Another approach might be to legislate that those who choose to have potentially hazardous and harmful accessories fitted to their car might have to bear greater liability for their cost to society. Either through insurance or culpability in the event of 3rd party injury.
Non smoker: 25 Jan 2011 9:07:56am
Good point george. Smokers would thus be in this group of drivers who fall into this group of hazardous drivers
And onwards they march, towards the rest of us, getting closer and closer.....
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