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Bull Bars and Vulnerable Road Users
Ediriweera Desapriya a b , John M. Kerr a b , D. Sesath Hewapathirane a b c , Dinithi Peiris a b ,
Bikaramjit Mann d , Nayomi Gomes a b , Kavindya Peiris a b , Giulia Scime a b & Jennifer Jones
a Developmental Neurosciences and Child Health, Centre for Community Child Health
Research, Child and Family Research Institute, Department of Pediatrics, University of
British Columbia, Vancouver, BC, Canada
b British Columbia Injury Research and Prevention Unit, Vancouver, BC, Canada
c Faculty of Medicine, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, BC, Canada
d Department of Medicine, University of Calgary, Calgary, AB, Canada
Accepted author version posted online: 07 Nov 2011.Version of record first published: 12 Jan
To cite this article: Ediriweera Desapriya , John M. Kerr , D. Sesath Hewapathirane , Dinithi Peiris , Bikaramjit Mann , Nayomi
Gomes , Kavindya Peiris , Giulia Scime & Jennifer Jones (2012): Bull Bars and Vulnerable Road Users, Traffic Injury Prevention,
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Trafﬁc Injury Prevention, 13:86–92, 2012
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ISSN: 1538-9588 print / 1538-957X online
Bull Bars and Vulnerable Road Users
EDIRIWEERA DESAPRIYA,1,2 JOHN M. KERR,1,2 D. SESATH
HEWAPATHIRANE,1,2,3 DINITHI PEIRIS,1,2 BIKARAMJIT MANN,4NAYOMI
GOMES,1,2 KAVINDYA PEIRIS,1,2 GIULIA SCIME,1,2 and JENNIFER JONES1,2
1Developmental Neurosciences and Child Health, Centre for Community Child Health Research, Child and Family Research
Institute, Department of Pediatrics, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, BC, Canada
2British Columbia Injury Research and Prevention Unit, Vancouver, BC, Canada
3Faculty of Medicine, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, BC, Canada
4Department of Medicine, University of Calgary, Calgary, AB, Canada
Objectives: Pedestrian injuries are a leading cause of the global death and injury burden, accounting for 65 percent of the
1.2 million annual road deaths. The purpose of this brief literature review is to examine whether bull bars, a rigid aftermarket
accessory ﬁtted to the front end of passenger vehicles, increase the risk of severe and fatal injuries to vulnerable road users
in the event of a collision.
Methods: Applicable peer-reviewed research, review papers, and grey literature were identiﬁed from a search of MED-
LINE; the Transportation Research Board (TRB) database composed of Transportation Research Information Services (TRIS)
and International Transport Research Documentation (TRID) databases; the Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews; and
Google Scholar. The following search terms were used: “bull bars” OR “nudge bars” OR “sahara bars” AND “pedestrians”
OR “vulnerable road users” for 1948 to March 1, 2011. A secondary set of search terms was also included “bull bars” OR
“nudge bars” OR “sahara bars” OR “vehicle frontal protective systems” AND “pedestrians” OR “vulnerable road users”
for 1948 to March 1, 2011.
Results: Neither the MEDLINE search nor the Cochrane Review search returned any relevant literature. The TRID search
returned 19 research articles, 9 of which were included. Searches using Google Scholar returned 110 items, of which 21
were included in the present review after excluding patents and citations. Seven of the articles from TRID were also found
in the Google Scholar search, resulting in 23 unique articles being included in this review. The studies used included 12
real-world studies, 3 computer modeling studies, and 8 laboratory testing studies. Very few studies examined the road safety
of pedal-cyclists and motorcyclists; therefore, we focused solely on studies examining pedestrian safety.
Conclusions: The literature reviewed in this study indicates that vehicles ﬁtted with bull bars, particularly those without
deformable padding, concentrate crash forces over a smaller area of vulnerable road users during collisions compared to
vehicles not ﬁtted with a bull bar. Rigid bull bars, such as those made from steel or aluminum, stiffen the front end of vehicles
and interfere with the vital shock absorption systems designed in vehicle fronts. These devices therefore signiﬁcantly alter
the collision dynamics of vehicles, resulting in an increased risk of pedestrian injury and mortality in crashes. This literature
review shows that bull bars do indeed increase the severity of injuries to vulnerable road users in the event of a collision and
highlights the need for current trafﬁc safety policies to reﬂect the safety concerns surrounding the use of bull bars.
Keywords Vehicle design; Pedestrian injury; Vehicle fronts; Rigid bull bars
Pedestrian injuries are a leading cause of global death and
injury burden, accounting for 65 percent of the 1.2 million an-
nual road deaths (Peden et al. 2004). Efforts have been made to
reduce the incidence of trafﬁc fatalities caused by motor vehicle
collisions. Improvements to vehicle design, for example, have
Received 31 May 2011; accepted 13 September 2011.
Address correspondence to Dr. Ediriweera Desapriya, L-408, 4480 Oak
Street, Vancouver, BC V6H 3V4, Canada. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
been shown to reduce the severity of injuries to pedestrians and
cyclists in the event of a collision (Peden et al. 2004). Although
road safety researchers have had a basic understanding of the re-
lationship between vehicle design and pedestrian injuries since
the 1960s (Kratzke 1995), the safety of vulnerable road users,
deﬁned by the World Health Organization (Peden et al. 2004)
as pedestrians, cyclists, and motorcyclists, did not become a
serious concern in the ﬁeld of vehicle design safety research
until the early 1990s. This delay may have been partially due
to the belief that little could be done to protect pedestrians
in the event of a vehicle crash (Kahane 2004; Kratzke 1995).
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BULL BARS AND VULNERABLE ROAD USERS 87
Furthermore, manufacturers may have been reluctant to de-
velop and invest in an area not considered to provide sufﬁcient
added value to the vehicle from a market share perspective.
Therefore, safety research for vulnerable road users has been
relatively slow and poorly funded, in comparison to safety
considerations for vehicle occupants. Moreover, scientiﬁc
consensus on the requirements of vehicle design for pedestrian
protection has still not been fully achieved (Crandall et al.
Studies have been conducted examining how the shape, stiff-
ness, and speed of motor vehicles can inﬂuence injury type
and severity to pedestrians and cyclists. Early work by Ash-
ton and McKay (1979) related speciﬁc vehicle impact speeds
to risk of death. In the 1990s, the term aggressivity was in-
troduced to describe the vehicle properties of geometry, mass,
and stiffness, deﬁned by Fildes et al. (1993) as the extent to
which a vehicle transfers collision energy to the struck ob-
ject in comparison to the amount of collision energy that
it absorbs itself. The design of vehicles, particularly frontal
structures, determines aggressivity and contributes largely to
the severity of injuries sustained in pedestrian–vehicle and
cyclist–vehicle crashes. Semi-trailer trucks and large 4-wheel-
drive vehicles, vans, and sports utility vehicles (SUVs) have par-
ticularly harmful effects on vulnerable road users (Oxley et al.
The subject of this review, bull bars, are predominantly rigid
metal bars ﬁxed to the front end of an SUV, originally designed
to prevent damage to the vehicle upon contact with animals in
rural areas (Higgins 1994). Fitting of rigid, aggressive bull bars
for protection against wildlife or simply for aesthetic reasons
has been publicized as a cause for concern in many countries
(Higgins 1994; Peden et al. 2004). It has been argued that bull
bars are essential safety features that protect occupants in the
event of such a collision; however, there has been much debate
about their use in densely populated urban areas where pedes-
trians are often the only casualties they come into contact with
(Attewell and Glase 2004). Figure 1 (top) presents a photograph
of a pickup truck ﬁxed with a metal bull bar. Figure 1 (bottom)
presents a photograph of a pickup truck ﬁxed with a metal nudge
Determining the impact of bull bars on vulnerable road users
is necessary for informed trafﬁc safety and car manufacturer
policy making, especially to support the Global Technical
Regulation (GTR) on pedestrian protection (United Nations
Economic Commission for Europe [UNECE] 2009). The
purpose of this brief review, therefore, is to examine whether
bull bars increase the severity of injuries to vulnerable road
users in the event of a collision and to shed light on the reasons
motorists choose to ﬁt these devices to their vehicles. Though
the goal of this study was to research the inﬂuence of bull
bars on collision outcomes with all vulnerable road users,
very few studies identiﬁed in this review elaborated on the
impact of these devices on the road safety of pedal-cyclists and
motorcyclists. Thus, our study focused solely on pedestrian
Figure 1 Pickup trucks ﬁtted with a metal bull bar (top) and a nudge bar
(bottom) (color ﬁgure available online).
Applicable peer-reviewed research, review papers, and grey
literature were identiﬁed from a search of MEDLINE; the Trans-
portation Research Board (TRB) database composed of Trans-
portation Research Information Services (TRIS) and the Interna-
tional Transport Research Documentation (TRID) databases; the
Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews; and Google Scholar.
The following search terms were used: “bull bars” OR “nudge
bars” OR “sahara bars” AND “pedestrians” OR “vulnerable
road users” for 1948 to March 1, 2011. A secondary set of search
terms was also used: “bull bars” OR “nudge bars” OR “sahara
bars” OR “vehicle frontal protective systems” AND “pedestri-
ans” OR “vulnerable road users” for 1948 to March 1, 2011.
Medical Subject Heading (MeSH) terms were not available for
any of the search terms. Abstracts were evaluated against criteria
Real-world studies or computer modeling or laboratory
testing results from:
•Research on bull bars and impact on safety of vulnerable road
users published as independent studies; or
•Research from trafﬁc safety conference proceedings; or
•Research within trafﬁc safety reports; or
•Research supporting reviews of current regulations.
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88 DESAPRIYA ET AL.
Full articles were retrieved for included abstracts, and articles
were examined to conﬁrm satisfaction of inclusion standards.
All literature searches were supplemented with manual screen-
ing of bibliographies in publications accepted for inclusion into
the evidence base. The selection and results ﬂowchart is pre-
sented in the Appendix.
As seen in the Appendix, neither the MEDLINE nor
Cochrane database of systematic review search returned any
entries on bull bars and pedestrian crashes.
The TRID search returned 19 research articles, 9 of which
were included. Google Scholar provided 110 articles, which,
after excluding patents and citations, yielded 21 articles. Seven
of the articles from TRID were also found in the Google Scholar
search, resulting in 23 unique articles being included in this
Studies on bull bars were categorized into real-world studies,
computer modeling studies, and laboratory testing, as described
in the following subsections.
Real-world studies represented the largest category of literature.
These 12 papers were mainly from Australia (10 papers). There
was also one paper from Ireland and one from The Netherlands.
Three studies using computer modeling were included in this
review, all from Australia.
Eight of the included studies utilized laboratory testing to study
the effects of bull bars and vulnerable road users. Four papers
were from work done in Australia, 2 from Britain, 1 from Bel-
gium, and 1 from Japan.
In 2006, 11.5 percent of pedestrians struck by large SUVs in the
United States were killed, compared to 4.5 percent of pedestrians
struck by passenger cars. Simms and Wood (2006) attributed
the high bumpers and bonnets (hoods) present on these vehicles
as the cause of the observed increase in pedestrian mortality
during collisions, using real-world data and simulation models.
Bull bars are an additional hazard contributing to an already
high injury rate because they reduce the average impact speed
for fatal collisions and thus severe injuries and death rates are
higher (Bowd 1995).
The Federal Ofﬁce of Road Safety in Australia (1996)
estimated that 12 percent of pedestrian deaths in Australia in
1992 involved vehicles ﬁtted with bull bars. Subsequent work
has suggested that this value may in fact be an underestimate,
due to a large proportion of missing data, raising the possibility
that vehicles ﬁtted with bull bars may have been involved in up
to 20 percent of collisions resulting in road deaths (Bowd 1997;
Federal Ofﬁce of Road Safety 1996). Due to the incompleteness
of bull bar status of vehicles in the Australian national fatality
database, it is difﬁcult to draw ﬁrm conclusions about the effect
of bull bars on pedestrian fatalities in this jurisdiction (Ander-
son et al. 2008). Upon examination of the South Australian
Coroner’s records of pedestrian fatalities between 1991 and
1997, researchers found that bull bars were ﬁtted to 8.8 percent
of vehicles involved in fatal pedestrian collisions (Kloeden et al.
The prevalence of bull bar use in urban areas is signiﬁcantly
high. A recent survey of vehicles in areas where pedestrian
crashes have occurred showed that 8.6 percent of vehicles in
the region of Adelaide, Australia, were equipped with bull bars.
However, a higher proportion of vehicles in the outer metropoli-
tan region were equipped with bull bars compared to those in
the central business district and the inner metropolitan region
(Anderson et al. 2008). A follow-up study determined propor-
tions of vehicle types equipped with bull bars by using video
footage of survey sites. It showed that 45.4 percent of 4-wheel-
drive vehicles (4WDs)/SUVs, 49.8 percent of work utility ve-
hicles, 15.6 percent of vans, 1.5 percent of passenger cars and
derivatives, 28 percent of trucks, and 23.3 percent of buses were
equipped with a bull bar, with alloy bull bars being the most
common (Doecke et al. 2008).
The Transport Research Laboratory (TRL 1996) in Britain
examined crashes involving vehicles equipped with bull bars
and found that there were 2 to 3 additional fatalities and ap-
proximately 40 additional serious injury casualties as a result of
vehicles being ﬁtted with bull bars.
An analysis of Dutch national road statistics showed that
SUVs are signiﬁcantly more aggressive toward vulnerable road
users compared to other vehicles (Margaritis et al. 2005). One
factor found to have an inﬂuence on accident severity was frontal
stiffness, which is increased by bull bars. The large difference
between the stiffness of the bull bar and impact partner in-
creases the deformation of the partner. The authors noted that
bull bars are of no use in road trafﬁc and recommended more re-
stricted regulations on the use of bull bars (Hoogvelt et al. 2004;
Margaritis et al. 2005). If used, bull bars should conform to the
geometry of the vehicle, and sharp edges from additions such
as a ﬁshing rod carrier must be removed because they are also
hazards to pedestrians and are noncompliant with bylaws in
some areas (Staysafe Committee 2006).
Older road users are especially vulnerable to the effects of
bull bars, accounting for up to 45 percent of pedestrian fatalities
and up to 70 percent of cyclist fatalities. Increased frailty in older
pedestrians and cyclists often results in increased severity of
injuries when compared to younger road users, even in moderate
crashes (Oxley et al. 2004). The trend toward aggressive and
large vehicles with rigid bull bars is thus of large consequence
to this population in particular.
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BULL BARS AND VULNERABLE ROAD USERS 89
Though a majority of motorists chose to ﬁt these devices
to protect their vehicle and passengers from damage during a
collision, some chose to use bull bars for purposes other than
protection. A survey by Page et al. (1984) indicated that the
3 major reasons given for ﬁtting bull bars to sedans were to
protect against parking collisions, to make the vehicle more
visually attractive, and to allow for more aggressive driving
in peak hours. Bull bars provide motorists with a convenient
location to mount additional accessories to their vehicles, such
as spotlights and recovery winches. Further, though drivers have
the option of ﬁtting “pedestrian-friendly” bull bars in place of
metal varieties for this purpose, a study by Anderson et al.
(2008) demonstrated that the majority of motorists still prefer
steel or alloy models over plastic, even in densely populated
urban areas. The prevalence of these devices in urban areas, in
conjunction with the increased risk of severe injury and death
they pose to vulnerable motorists, raises the question of why bull
bars, particularly those made of rigid metal materials, continue
to remain permitted in urban zones where they serve no safety
Computer Modeling Studies
Recent computer simulation tests conducted by the University
of Adelaide found that in a test simulating a pedestrian’s head
striking the front of an SUV with a steel bull bar, the head
decelerations produced were typically 5 times greater than those
from a vehicle with no bull bars (Anderson et al. 2009).
Modeling studies have also indicated that bull bars might
have other effects in pedestrian crashes because they alter the
front geometry of the vehicle and therefore alter the kinematics
of the struck pedestrian, either onto the upper surface of the
vehicle or onto the road. The simulation results further showed
that the addition of a bull bar to the front of a vehicle increases
the speed of the head impact with the bonnet (Anderson et al.
2009). The MADYMO simulation showed that a bull bar alters
the trajectory of the head of struck pedestrians and consequently
increases the danger of fatal head injuries (Anderson et al. 2009).
Laboratory Testing Studies
From laboratory testing conducted as early as the 1970s, it was
recognized that bull bars altered the proﬁle of a vehicle front end,
making it potentially more aggressive in pedestrian collisions. A
number of crash simulation studies have been conducted using
pedestrian dummies and vehicles equipped with and without
bull bars in order to investigate the altered injury mechanisms
and kinematics involved.
Chiam and Tomas (1980) examined the effect of bull
bars on vehicle–pedestrian collision dynamics. The experi-
ments reproduced collisions between an adult male dummy
and cars with and without bull bars and at impact speeds
of 20 km/h. The results showed that impacts with bull bars
result in a higher incidence of knee or ankle fractures and
higher severity head injury in both adults and children. It
was concluded that this is due to higher and more concen-
trated impact points in the case of bull bars (Chiam and Tomas
Zellmer and Otte (1995) reported on crash tests conducted
in Germany at the Federal Highway Research Institute (BASt).
They concluded that bull bars strongly increase the risk of in-
jury and injury severity in vehicle crash with pedestrians or
cyclists (Zellmer and Otte 1995). The study further stated that
injury risk for a child in an impact with a vehicle ﬁtted with
a bull bar at 20 km/h is similar to an impact with an off-road
vehicle traveling at 30 km/h and a regular passenger car travel-
ing at 40 km/h. It was also concluded that hip and lower limb
fracture risk for an adult impacting a bull bar at 25 km/h is
similar to impacting a car bonnet at 40 km/h (Zellmer and Otte
Mizuno et al. (2001) conducted child pedestrian headform
impact tests and found that the head injury criteria are higher
when struck by an SUV ﬁtted with steel bull bars. The study
went on to state that the geometrical incompatibility (e.g., the
steel bull bars, the higher bonnet height) of SUVs is the major
cause of a higher mortality rate (Mizuno et al. 2001).
Testing using impact test procedures developed to assess the
safety of cars in impacts with pedestrians has shown that, in
general, vehicles equipped with bull bars are more likely to
cause injuries to pedestrians, especially child pedestrians, than
vehicles not ﬁtted with bull bars (Shield 1999; Zellmer and Otte
1995). Full-scale crash testing has proven that impact kinematics
are signiﬁcantly changed by the addition of a bull bar (Reilly-
Jones and Grifﬁths 1996).
Anderson et al. (2006a) examined the performance of various
bull bars in pedestrian impact tests and found that steel and
aluminum bull bars can produce extremely high impact loads
which, in the case of pedestrian contact, can cause high levels
of morbidity and mortality. Their research on the impact of bull
bar material showed that steel poses the most signiﬁcant risks
to pedestrians in the event of a collision. Bull bars constructed
of lighter metals (e.g., aluminum or alloy) performed better but
were still a dangerous addition to the vehicle. Polymer bull bars
were suggested to be an acceptable way to protect the front of the
vehicle without causing increased risk of injury to pedestrians
(Anderson et al. 2006b). In a later observational study of bull
bars at pedestrian crash sites, it was found that metallic bull bars
were the most common of all bull bar types (Anderson et al.
2008). It was suggested that more rigorous testing protocols and
a bull bar rating system should be implemented for regulators
(Anderson et al. 2006b; McLean 2005).
Current Regulations and Recommendations
European, Japanese, and Korean carmakers committed in 2001
to stop installing “rigid” bull bars on new cars beginning in
2002 (European Union Committee 2007). The vehicle safety
regulations introduced in Europe and Japan in 2005 required all
new vehicle models to comply with pedestrian safety standards
(McLean 2005). These regulations are expected to lead to safer
bull bars that are designed with more pedestrian-friendly mate-
rials. More recently, the Working Group on Passive Safety under
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90 DESAPRIYA ET AL.
the UNECE drafted a Global Technical Regulation (GTR) on
pedestrian protection (UNECE 2009).
A Regulation Impact Statement (RIS) for pedestrian safety in
Australia reviewed the evidence for an intervention to improve
the pedestrian safety performance of new Australian vehicles.
It was recommended that a mandatory standard, known as an
Australian Design Rule (ADR), be adopted based on the GTR
on pedestrian protection (Vehicle Safety Standards Branch, De-
partment of Infrastructure and Transport 2011). Currently there
are no ADRs in Australia related to the protection of vulnerable
road users in the event of a collision with a motor vehicle. It was
acknowledged that the ﬁtting of extra equipment, including bull
bars and/or vehicle frontal protection systems (VFPS), is almost
exclusively an aftermarket activity. It was also acknowledged
that VFPS manufacturers could be affected by the adoption of
an ADR relating to pedestrian safety, so VFPS were considered
as part of the RIS analysis. ADR 42/04 speciﬁes design and
construction requirements such that “any additional objects or
ﬁttings must be technically essential” (Vehicle Safety Standards
Branch, Department of Infrastructure and Transport 2011, p. 3).
Whether VFPS are technically essential depends primarily on
where the vehicle is being used. However, the ADR can only
mandate requirements to apply to all vehicles in Australia. To
address this issue, it was proposed that the ﬁtting of a VFPS
could be considered in terms of the primary use of the base
vehicle. For instance, adjustments for VFPS could be limited
to vehicles designed for off-road use (Vehicle Safety Standards
Branch, Department of Infrastructure and Transport 2011). De-
spite the RIS recommendations, a recent statement released by
the Australian government indicates that a ban on bull bars is
not a consideration (Noller 2011).
The most obvious limitation of this review is the lack of sci-
entiﬁcally sound peer-reviewed literature on the impact of bull
bars on vulnerable road users, fatal injuries, injury patterns, and
injury mechanisms. This greatly limits the understanding of ac-
tual trafﬁc safety problems and solutions concerning bull bars,
both among the trafﬁc safety research community and policy
makers. In general, clinical understanding of bull bar impact
injuries is poor due to lack of scientiﬁcally sound real-world
studies. Similarly, there are no scientiﬁcally sound real-world
studies examining the beneﬁt of bull bars for preventing animal-
related crashes. Further, there is a lack of research examining the
impact of bull bars on pedal-cyclist and motorcyclist road safety.
Though there is little doubt that bull bars represent a hazard to
cyclist and motorcyclist safety, the underrepresentation of these
vulnerable road users in the literature makes it difﬁcult to assess
the inﬂuence these devices have on collision outcomes. This
population of road users represents an important component of
many trafﬁc systems, and the dangers that bull bars pose to these
vulnerable road users is a topic that needs to be addressed in
Although the evidence base is limited to a relatively small
number of studies, the data conclusively point to the contribution
of bull bars to unnecessary levels of human trauma and fatalities.
Presently, there is active discouragement toward the manu-
facture of rigid and aggressive bull bars. Recently, the European
Council Working Group and European Parliamentary Commit-
tee reached consensus on a proposal that will effectively outlaw
aggressive metal bull bars while permitting the use of compliant
(non-rigid) systems that offer broadly equivalent levels of pro-
tection to the vehicle to which they are ﬁtted (European Union
Committee 2007). As noted above (Anderson et al. 2006b), re-
designing bull bars with softer materials such as plastic would
make them more pedestrian friendly.
The United Nations Economic Commission for Europe
Working Party on the Protection of Pedestrians recommended
that the use of bull bars on roads be banned, notably by encour-
aging both car manufacturers and component manufacturers to
stop selling them as vehicle accessories (UNECE 2002). GTR
No. 9 introduced performance criteria to improve the construc-
tion of certain parts of the front of vehicles and thereby reduce
the levels of injury sustained by pedestrians involved in frontal
impacts with motor vehicles. The GTR outlines requirements
such as the height and lateral limits of the frontal structures of
a vehicle, including any attachments to the structure (UNECE
2008). Furthermore, the European Commission recently intro-
duced a consolidated regulation on the construction and function
of motor vehicles and frontal protection systems in an effort to
reduce pedestrian injuries (European Parliament Council 2009).
This review shows that rigid bull bars, particularly those
made of metal, increase the severity of injuries to vulnerable
road users. Our ﬁndings highlight the urgent need for current
trafﬁc safety policies to reﬂect the safety concerns surrounding
the use of such bull bars.
We thank our research team member Jennifer Campbell of
the Faculty of Medicine University of Toronto for her assistance
with earlier version of this manuscript. We also acknowledge
the ﬁnancial support of the AUTO21 Networks of Centers of
Excellence of Canada.
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92 DESAPRIYA ET AL.
APPENDIX—LITERATURE SEARCH FLOWCHART
Note: overlaps occurred during literature searches.
rimary screening Cochrane Review (0), MEDLINE (0), TRID (19), Google Scholar (110)
Secondary screening Included (23), Excluded (106)
, Computer modellin
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