Almost every day, somewhere in the U.S., a car jumps over a curb and smashes into a convenience store, coffee shop or restaurant. Some of these crashes hurt or kill innocent bystanders, while also causing millions of dollars in property damage.
As FairWarning has reported, many safety experts say that for a modest cost – often $10,000 or less per store – barriers can be installed to protect shoppers, employees and pedestrians from careening cars.
And now a new development could nudge more retailers, property owners, cities and states to take action.
ASTM International, an influential industry standards-setting organization, has given final approval to a voluntary standard for proving the effectiveness of safety barriers used in parking lots.
Proponents say the new standard could spur property owners and stores that wanted technical guidance before spending money on safety barriers to now go ahead. They say it also may encourage the adoption of ordinances and building codes requiring posts, known as bollards, or similar safety barriers.
Typically made of steel and often filled with concrete, bollards already are a familiar sight beside vulnerable sections of shopping centers and government buildings. Still, safety specialists say some big retail chains and other businesses, as well as shopping center owners, have done too little to reduce the risks to bystanders.
The accidents typically occur when drivers, often elderly or drunk, accidentally hit the gas as they nose into a parking space directly facing a store, patio or walkway. That kind of configuration is known as “nose-in” or “head-in” parking.
Three years in the making, the new standard for testing barriers took effect this month. It is known informally as a test standard for low-speed bollards, but its official name is more inscrutable: the F3016-2014 Standard Test Method for Surrogate Testing of Vehicle Impact Protective Devices at Low Speeds.
Final approval followed crash tests conducted at the Texas A&M Transportation Institute. The standard was meant to provide protection against vehicles up to 5,000 pounds, a category that includes many pickup trucks, traveling at up to 30 mile per hour.
The result is that architects and engineers now have a standard they can use to “specify a product that they know will be effective” against that kind of an impact, said Rob Reiter, a safety consultant based in Pomona, Calif., who was co-chair of the ASTM working group that developed the standard.
Dean Alberson, the research engineer at the Texas A&M Transportation Institute who launched the ASTM working group with Reiter, said the new standard is “a huge step forward. We should see a marked improvement in safety in these low-speed areas that we see a lot of accidents in.”
Until now, he said, pedestrians often had little protection from the hazards posed by cars in parking lots with nose-in parking spaces.
No federal agency keeps figures on storefront crashes and similar accidents. But a FairWarning review earlier this year of news reports from early April 2013 through early April 2014 found that at least 16 customers, employees or other bystanders were killed in accidental crashes into store buildings or adjacent property. At least 587 others were hurt, 121 seriously, during the 12-month period. The figures are certainly an undercount, since not all of the accidents make the news.