Safety Bollards

Whether architectural black or eye-catching yellow, bollards create protected zones

Thick black bollards in steel metal covers protect an electronics store
7% of storefront crashes happen in ram-raids: targeted stores may choose thick bollards.

Cars: They’re transportation, status symbols, collectors’ items, hobbies, and a major line item on household balance sheets. For many people, vehicles allow freedom and range, providing job opportunities, connecting family and friends, allowing participation in activities, and ferrying people to appointments at places far from home. Our car culture embraces many of these beneficial and enjoyable aspects of vehicles, but this acceptance sits uncomfortably with the knowledge that, because of their size and speed, cars are also deadly weapons.

Driving is often the riskiest part of a person’s day. A World Health organization report estimates that each year in the United States, 10.6 people die per 100,000 people due to traffic accidents. Drivers are accustomed to inching past accident scenes on the highway, and often the risks of driving are associated with these high speed and high traffic areas.

However, fatalities and injuries can also happen in low-speed and pedestrian areas closer to home.

A bright yellow bollard is highly visible in a parking lot full of cars
Yellow bollards are a common way to communicate the need for cautious, slow driving.

Crash statistics around buildings and on sites

In the State of New York, between 2014 and 2016, there were around 4400 incidents where a single vehicle crashed into a building or wall. Such accidents can happen in people’s garages or homes, but more often occur in parking lots. Pedal confusion, speed control, or driver impairment can lead to drivers plowing past their parking space into a storefront beyond. Visual misjudgment of distance and position also causes issue, especially around the end of parking stalls, drive through windows, and utilities.

These crashes can be traumatic and expensive. Injury to driver, passengers, pedestrians, buildings, and the car often result.

Mark Wright, a crash victim who was hit outside a convenience store in September 2008, has spent the past 10 years researching these accidents. His blog breaks down building-crash statistics by cause. Operator error, pedal error, and DUIs are responsible for most building crashes. However, 7% of the time, these crashes are due to ramraid theft, where criminals purposefully breach a storefront to steal what they can.

A line of black bollards with stacked-disc caps protects a parking lot in front of an upscale business
Safety bollards are functional, but they can also be an attractive accent.

What is pedal confusion (or pedal error)?

When a driver makes a pedal error, they experience accelerator-brake confusion, and press the gas when they mean to be slamming on the brakes. Pedal misapplication can cause some of the most explosive crashes: when the driver realizes the car is still moving, their instinct is to press the brakes harder. Unfortunately, if it’s the gas pedal they’re stepping on, they are accelerating into the crash.

Pedal confusion is responsible for more than a quarter of incidents where a car hits a building or wall. When cars park perpendicular to a storefront, a common orientation to maximize both parking and traffic flow, the risk of pedal confusion causing severe building damage goes up.

Safety bollards in front of a white and blue office building are an attractive matching silver
Many bollard styles match modern architecture’s crisp façades.

Stylish bollards for storefront protection

When planning a parking lot or street with nose-in or back-in parking, placing bollards at the end of each parking stall mitigates the risk of destruction in a crash. These bollards can be chosen to complement the character and design of the location. Historical areas might choose architectural bollards, as were installed on Ladysmith BC’s award-winning “Great Street” after a series of storefront crashes motivated the local city counsel to act.

Stainless steel bollards are also available for the clean lines of modern buildings featuring glass and steel construction. Or a location may choose to brand their bollards, using colors that match their company’s logo or the wall color of the location. Whichever bollards are chosen, they can blend in or complement the site.

A yellow safety bollard stands protects the glass windows of a business
With nose-in or back-in parking, safety bollards offer storefront protection.

High-visibility yellow bollards, for parking and more

Just as there are places where bollards should fade into the background, there are also places where safety bollards need to draw attention to themselves. Some drivers can misjudge their car’s turning radius and position over ground markings or obstacles, especially when they’re trying to inch closely into a space. Even drivers with a good sense of their car’s position may recall moments where they’ve scraped their bumper on a parking stop or bounced a rear wheel over a curb on a tight turn. Yet there are places, such as close to drive-through windows and utility boxes, where precision is necessary, and this sort of wheel-placement misjudgment could cause damage or injury—more likely to the building or utility than to the car, which is designed with crumple zones and other engineering to survive crashes at higher speeds.

In these cases, a high-visibility yellow bollard is a striking visual guide that clearly denotes where the danger is. It allows a driver to inch close to the object, without threat to it. At low speeds, a car scraping against such a bollard will be returned to where they ought to be. At faster speeds, the car might crash, but the bollard will absorb the force, rather than the utility or wall it is protecting.

High-visibility bollards in red sleeves stand outside a Staples store
Stores can choose bollard styles or covers to match or complement their brand.

Protecting people and property with safety bollards

Vehicles are increasingly engineered to protect people in a crash. Crumple zones with specialized steel, airbags, seatbelts, and other safety features work to protect occupants. Of course, buildings are not primarily engineered for crash worthiness. This means that someone behind a window of glass is vulnerable to those driving outside. Introducing safety bollards gives a building a little perimeter security, a “crumple zone” of its own.

Accelerator and brake confusion is slightly higher in young drivers and people above the age of 65. These two populations are both growing, as both Boomers and their grandchildren age into those risk categories. With cell phones now ubiquitous, phone distraction is something we deal with that was not an issue 30 years ago. During that time, our vehicles have gotten more powerful.

It makes sense in this environment to anticipate the problem and protect both buildings and pedestrians from storefront crashes. A perimeter of bollards can be chosen to stand out, blend in, or complement the façade. Whatever the style, safety bollards speak volumes about a site manager’s priorities. They suggest a company takes its responsibility to its clients seriously and is willing to prevent a problem before it starts.