March, 2011 crash at a 7-Eleven store in Midland, Texas (Photo by Roger Primera)

March, 2011 crash at a 7-Eleven store in Midland, Texas (Photo by Roger Primera)

See update at bottom of story.

Spurred by deadly crashes involving cars plunging into stores, day care centers and other sites, a California lawmaker has introduced a bill to prod commercial property owners to install special safety barriers.

The measure, if approved, would give California the nation’s first state law encouraging wider use of bollards, a type of barrier already found in front of some stores and sidewalks to block wayward vehicles.

The bill’s author, Assemblyman Bill Quirk, said the hazard was brought to his attention last September after a car struck a day care center in the Sacramento area where his chief of staff, Sean Henschel, has two young sons. There were no serious injuries in that accident.

Quirk, a Democrat from the San Francisco Bay Area city of Hayward, was alarmed to learn, after Henschel researched the issue, that a considerable number of so-called storefront crashes occur, and prove deadly, every year. “I really hadn’t heard of that,” Quirk said.

As FairWarning has reported, no federal agency keeps figures on such accidents. But a FairWarning review of news reports from early April 2013 through early April 2014 found that nationally 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.

Many safety experts say that for a modest cost — often $10,000 or less — barriers can be installed that give customers, employees and pedestrians substantial protection from vehicles that otherwise might jump a curb and careen into a store. Still, safety specialists and plaintiffs lawyers say some big chains and other businesses, as well as shopping center owners, have done too little to reduce the risks.

Quirk’s bill, introduced last week, would try to remedy that. It would encourage California communities to consider, before issuing permits for any new commercial parking lot, whether bollards should be installed. The bill also urges insurance companies to consider bollards, which are posts typically made of steel and filled with concrete, a safety measure worthy of lower property insurance premiums.

Quirk said he avoided including mandates in the measure, partly to avoid imposing significant costs on the state and also because the problem of storefront crashes doesn’t lend itself to a “one size fits all” solution.

But Rob Reiter, a Pomona, Calif., a safety expert who has consulted for bollard companies and the co-founder of an advocacy group called the Storefront Safety Council, said the insurance provision could translate into a significant economic incentive. He said it could bring a cost advantage to property owners with bollards that would “greatly” encourage the installation of more bollards.

The California bill comes as related proposals are percolating in some communities. In Orange County, Fla., where a car crash into a day care center in April 2014 killed a 4-year-old girl, officials are drafting an ordinance that could require bollards or other safety features to protect new day care establishments near areas with heavy traffic. A program to help pay for safety improvements at existing day care centers is being considered, too.

In addition, a bollard ordinance is under consideration in Artesia, Calif., where a 73-year-old woman was killed in April 2014 by a car that jumped a curb while she was sitting outside an ice cream shop.

Proponents are hoping that more communities will be inspired to act due to an action last November by ASTM International, an influential industry standards-setting organization. It gave final approval to a voluntary standard for proving the effectiveness of safety barriers used in parking lots.

Separately, a trial is set to begin in Massachusetts in September in a case brought by the husband of a 43-year-old woman, Kimmy Dubuque, who was struck and killed by an SUV while she was entering a Cumberland Farms convenience store in 2010. Records in that case show that Cumberland, one of the nation’s biggest privately held businesses, had 485 “car strikes’’ from 2000 through 2009 at its 500-plus East Coast convenience stores.

[Oct. 7, 2015 update: Assemblyman Quirk’s bollards measure, which won easy approval in the California Legislature, was vetoed by Gov. Jerry Brown. In a letter to lawmakers, Brown said he believes “it would be more prudent to leave the matter of vehicle barrier installation to the building owners and local authorities.”]