Warning this story may be distressing (especially to horse lovers).
The reason why every four-wheel driver should have a bullbar on the front of their 4X4.
One topic that I see pop up all too often on social media is the call to ban bullbars on Australian vehicles. While my exact thoughts on what I think of the call to ban this vital protection equipment isn’t suitable for publication, I will take the time to share my own personal experience on exactly why they shouldn’t be banned. By way of background, I live in Darwin, Northern Territory. I’m blessed with a veritable smorgasbord of outdoors adventures on my doorstep, with literally hundreds of locations to fish, hunt, camp and unwind.
Since I was knee-high to a grasshopper, I have lived and loved the outdoors lifestyle and was the owner of a 2003 Toyota HiLux SR5, fitted with an ARB steel bullbar. Over the years, the bullbar had paid for itself by fending off the occasional wallaby or ’roo that would do a last-minute dash across the road. Being an experienced four-wheel driver, I always took the risk into account and drove to the conditions – dropping speed at high risk times and where possible avoiding driving at dusk and dawn.
A couple of years back I was making a pre-dawn trip from Darwin to Katherine on a solo photography mission. With the intention of getting to Katherine for sunrise, I left Darwin at 3.30am. With occasional chatter on the UHF from passing trucks to keep me company, the drive passed uneventfully until about 5.45am.
I’d just passed Pine Creek and was travelling at a speed of 100km/h (the road had a posted limit of 130km/h), slowing when I had to dip my headlights for oncoming traffic. My HiLux was also fitted with LightForce XGT driving lights, so I could see well ahead and off to the side of the road. Just south of Pine Creek, I was negotiating a sweeping bend when I saw headlights approaching from the opposite direction. I dipped my lights and washed speed off, lest another wallaby tempt fate.
As the two vehicles neared, movement across the oncoming headlights caught my attention and caused an immediate drop in my stomach. Barely a moment had passed when the blurry silhouette evolved into a fast-moving wild horse. It was at this moment time stopped. At a speed of approximately 90km/h, and with no time to react, the horse collided with the front right corner of the HiLux. I’ll never forget the noise and the shudder transmitted through the vehicle; nor the Mariah Carey-like squeal that I made. My greatest fear was that the horse would slide up the bonnet and into the cab of the vehicle… however luck was on my side and the bullbar took the full impact of the horse’s left shoulder causing it to spin along the side of the vehicle, damaging every panel and the canopy along the way.
I pulled over and took a moment to check myself – shaky nerves and a sphincter that wouldn’t let go of the driver’s seat. Other than that I was unharmed. The other car had also pulled over, so after checking that they were also OK (they’d only just clipped the horse’s backside), we pulled the horse off the road and I inspected the damage to the HiLux.
The thing that was immediately obvious was that the bullbar had done exactly what it was designed to do – it had absorbed an enormous amount of energy from the collision and protected not only myself, but the suspension and steering components as well – allowing me to bring the vehicle to a controlled stop.
The Police Officer who attended shortly after sun-up was dumbstruck that there was so little obvious damage to the car, and that I could walk away from the collision; as is typical in the NT, either side of the Stuart Highway at that location had a large drop-off into a culvert – so to leave the road in an uncontrolled manner would have had dire consequences. I was able to show the officer video footage from the dash camera that was fitted to the HiLux, and we worked out (playing frame by frame) that I had 0.7 seconds to react from when the horse could first be seen, to when the impact occurred.
While the car itself was heavily damaged and would ultimately be written off by my insurance company, I have absolutely no doubt in my mind that the bullbar fitted to my HiLux saved my life that day. The vehicle that replaced the ute – a new Isuzu D-Max – was also fitted with a steel ARB bullbar at the dealership. While they are expensive, they’re actually cheap insurance to protect yourself and your family from harm. In my opinion, to call for the banning of bullbars that are made to meet Australian safety standards, is to place the lives of travellers at risk of serious and potentially life-threatening injuries – as collisions with wildlife, under some circumstances, simply can’t be avoided.
Should steel bullbars be banned?
Despite their obvious benefits when travelling along Outback roads, should steel bullbars be banned from urban areas? Do the risks to other road users outweigh the benefits when travelling in the bush? Let us know your thoughts.