Just What Are Safety Bollards?

If you’re guessing based on name alone, you might come up with something along the lines of a large, disagreeable Brit stationed to guard things. You’re on the right track, but a bollard is inanimate. That’s one of the crucial features of bollards, actually.

Safety bollards are the barricades you see in front of many buildings, government and otherwise. They serve a number of purposes, from controlling traffic to making buildings easier to see at night, but their most important role is keeping people from careening into the building using automobiles. They help buildings stay safe, but what about people driving?

Types of Bollards

Bollards typically fall into one of three categories. There are decorative bollards, removable bollards and fixed bollards. Contrary to what you might think, they’re not always a security measure, and they don’t have to be an eyesore. A decorative set of bollards can complement a historical building, or you could have a set of bollards with places for people to lock their bikes.

Of course, security is a role where bollards excel, and with more concern of terrorist incidents where vehicles are used as weapons, the number of buildings sporting a set of strong fixed bollards intended to deflect a vehicular impact is going up.

Are they Helpful?

Is it necessary to have these extra elements busying up our otherwise clean and tidy urban spaces? Ultimately, the statistics point to yes. Vehicles crash into buildings more than sixty times a day and have been the cause of up to 500 deaths per year in the United States alone. A successful terrorist attack could cause that number to shoot up.

But couldn’t a large vehicle carry enough speed to simply overpower something as small as a simple metal bollard? Not if it’s built right. This video from almost ten years ago shows how effective a bollard can be against a heavy truck. The bollard used in the demonstration can even be raised and lowered, so you wouldn’t have to be concerned about it looking awkward during business hours.

Not every scenario that can benefit from the use of bollards involves protecting buildings, either. They have been used successfully to control the flow of traffic on high-speed roads as well, though some examples have proven a bit extreme.

Are they Safe?

Since these are designed to immediately stop cars, doesn’t that mean they’re unsafe for drivers? Not necessarily. While the bollards might stop a car suddenly and inflict major damage, having them is still safer than not having them. The car might get totaled, but plowing into a building is almost always worse, both for the driver and unknown number of building occupants that could be injured or killed. The cars still have airbags, while those in its path are truly defenseless.

Bollards in Use Today

You can see bollards in use protecting U.S. federal buildings, large businesses and even national monuments. Some of the oldest bollards dot the coastlines of port cities and were used as locations for ships to tie up.

You’ve probably overlooked these unassuming elements in the past. That’s kind of the point. They are, in a sense, meant to remain out of the way, but it’s interesting to consider the important roles they play in our lives.

The next time you visit your bank or take a drive through the city, see if you can spot the different shapes and types of bollards used in different places. You’ll probably notice fixtures where bollards that raise and lower are installed and even a few movable ones on the road. Bland though they may be, they make our world a much safer place.

From Scott Huntington, a guest NMA blogger who is an automotive writer from central Pennsylvania. Check out his work at Off The Throttle or follow him on Twitter@SMHuntington

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